MIT News - Books and authors - Literature - Science writing - Writing - Knight fellowship - Journalism http://news.mit.edu/rss/topic/literature-writing-and-journalism%20 MIT News is dedicated to communicating to the media and the public the news and achievements of the students, faculty, staff and the greater MIT community. en Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Why do banking crises occur? http://news.mit.edu/2020/banks-on-brink-singer-book-0310 In a new book, political scientist David Singer finds two key factors connected to financial-sector collapses around the globe. Tue, 10 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/banks-on-brink-singer-book-0310 <p>Why did the U.S. banking crisis of 2007-2008 occur? Many accounts have chronicled the bad decisions and poor risk management at places like Lehmann Brothers, the now-vanished investment bank. Still, plenty of banks have vanished, and many countries have had their own banking crises in recent decades. So, to pose the question more generally, why do modern banking crises occur?</p> <p>David Singer believes he knows. An MIT professor and head of the Institute’s Department of Political Science, Singer has spent years examining global data on the subject with his colleague Mark Copelovitch, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p>Together, Singer and Copelovitch have identified two things, in tandem, that generate banking crises: One, a large amount of foreign investment surges into a country, and two, that country’s economy has a well-developed market in securities — especially stocks.</p> <p>“Empirically, we find that systemic bank failures are more likely when substantial foreign capital inflows meet a financial system with well-developed stock markets,” says Singer. “Banks take on more risk in these environments, which makes them more prone to collapse.”</p> <p>Singer and Copelovitch detail their findings in a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press. In it, they emphasize that the historical development of markets creates conditions ripe for crisis — it is not just a matter of a few rogue bankers engaging in excessive profit-hunting.</p> <p>“There wasn’t much scholarship that explored the phenomenon from both a political and an economic perspective,” Singer adds. “We sought to go up to 30,000 feet and see what the patterns were, to explain why some banking systems were more resilient than others.”</p> <p><strong>Where the risk goes: Banks or stocks?</strong></p> <p>Through history, lending institutions have often been prone to instability. But Singer and Copelovitch examined what makes banks vulnerable under contemporary conditions. They looked at economic and banking-sector data from 1976-2011, for the 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).</p> <p>That time period begins soon after the Bretton Woods system of international monetary-policy cooperation vanished, which led to a significant increase in foreign capital movement. From 1990 to 2005 alone, international capital flow increased from $1 trillion to $12 trillion annually. (It has since slid back to $5 trillion, after the Great Recession.)</p> <p>Even so, a flood of capital entering a country is not enough, by itself, to send a banking sector under water, Singer says: “Why is it that some capital inflows can be accommodated and channeled productively throughout an economy, but other times they seem to lead a banking system to go awry?”</p> <p>The answer, Singer and Copelovitch contend, is that a highly active stock market is a form of competition for the banking sector, to which banks respond by taking greater risks.&nbsp;</p> <p>To see why, imagine a promising business needs capital. It could borrow funds from a bank. Or it could issue a stock offering, and raise the money from investors, as riskier firms generally do. If a lot of foreign investment enters a country, backing firms that issue stock offerings, bankers will want a piece of the action.</p> <p>“Banks and stock markets are competing for the business of firms that need to raise money,” Singer says. “When stock markets are small and unsophisticated, there’s not much competition. Firms go to their banks.” However, he adds, “A bank doesn’t want to lose a good chunk of its customer base to the stock markets. … And if that happens, banks start to do business with slightly riskier firms.”</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Canadian bank stability</strong></p> <p>Exploring this point in depth, the book develops contrasting case studies of Canada and Germany. Canada is one of the few countries to remain blissfully free of banking crises — something commentators usually ascribe to sensible regulation.</p> <p>However, Singer and Copelovitch observe, Canada has always had small, regional stock markets, and is the only OECD country without a national stock-market regulator.</p> <p>“There’s a sense that Canada has stable banks just because they’re well-regulated,” Singer says. “That’s the conventional wisdom we’re trying to poke holes in. And I think it’s not well-understood that Canada’s stock markets are as underdeveloped as they are.”</p> <p>He adds: “That’s one of the key considerations, when we analyze why Canada’s banks are so stable. They don’t face a competitive threat from stock markets the way banks in the United States do. They can be conservative and be competitive and still be profitable.”</p> <p>By contrast, German banks have been involved in many banking blowups in the last two decades. At one time, that would not have been the case. But Germany’s national-scale banks, feeling pressure from a thriving set of regional banks, tried to bolster profits through securities investment, leading to some notable problems.</p> <p>“Germany started off the period we study looking like a very bank-centric economy,” Singer says. “And that’s what Germany is often known for, close connections between banks and industry.” However, he notes, “The national banks started to feel a competitive threat and looked to stock markets to bolster their competitive advantage. … German banks used to be so stable and so long-term focused, and they’re now finding short-term trouble.”</p> <p>“Banks on the Brink” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Jeffry Frieden, a professor of government at Harvard University, says the book’s “careful logic, statistical analyses, and detailed case studies make compelling reading for anyone interested in the economics and politics of finance.”</p> <p>For their part, Singer and Copelovitch say they hope to generate more discussion about both the recent history of banking crises, and how to avoid them in the future.</p> <p>Perhaps surprisingly, Singer believes that separating commerical and investment banks from each other — which the Glass-Steagall Act used to do in the U.S. — would not prevent crises. Any bank, not just investment banks, can flounder if profit-hunting in risky territory.</p> <p>Instead, Singer says, “We think macroprudential regulations for banks are the way to go. That’s just about capital regulations, making sure banks are holding enough capital to absorb any losses they might incur. That seems to be the best approach to maintaining a stable banking system, especially in the face of large capital flows.”</p> David Singer, an MIT professor and head of the Department of Political Science, is the co-author of a new book, “Banks on the Brink: Global Capital, Securities Markets, and the Political Roots of Financial Crises,” published by Cambridge University Press.Photo: M. Scott BrauerPolitical science, Banking, Finance, Books and authors, Faculty, Research, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences The elephant in the server room http://news.mit.edu/2020/data-feminism-catherine-dignazio-0309 Catherine D’Ignazio’s new book, “Data Feminism,” examines problems of bias and power that beset modern information. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/data-feminism-catherine-dignazio-0309 <p>Suppose you would like to know mortality rates for women during childbirth, by country, around the world. Where would you look? One option is the <a href="http://www.womanstats.org/" target="_blank">WomanStats</a> Project, the website of an academic research effort investigating the links between the security and activities of nation-states, and the security of the women who live in them.</p> <p>The project, founded in 2001, meets a need by patching together data from around the world. Many countries are indifferent to collecting statistics about women’s lives. But even where countries try harder to gather data, there are clear challenges to arriving at useful numbers — whether it comes to women’s physical security, property rights, and government participation, among many other issues. &nbsp;</p> <p>For instance: In some countries, violations of women’s rights may be reported more regularly than in other places. That means a more responsive legal system may create the appearance of greater problems, when it provides relatively more support for women. The WomanStats Project notes many such complications.</p> <p>Thus the WomanStats Project offers some answers — for example, Australia, Canada, and much of Western Europe have low childbirth mortality rates — while also showing what the challenges are to taking numbers at face value. This, according to MIT professor Catherine D’Ignazio, makes the site unusual, and valuable.</p> <p>“The data never speak for themselves,” says D’Ignazio, referring to the general problem of finding reliable numbers about women’s lives. “There are always humans and institutions speaking for the data, and different people have their own agendas. The data are never innocent.”</p> <p>Now D’Ignazio, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has taken a deeper look at this issue in a new book, co-authored with Lauren Klein, an associate professor of English and quantitative theory and methods at Emory University. In the book, “<a href="http://datafeminism.io/" target="_blank">Data Feminism</a>,” published this month by the MIT Press, the authors use the lens of intersectional feminism to scrutinize how data science reflects the social structures it emerges from.</p> <p>“Intersectional feminism examines unequal power,” write D’Ignazio and Klein, in the book’s introduction. “And in our contemporary world, data is power too. Because the power of data is wielded unjustly, it must be challenged and changed.”</p> <p><strong>The 4 percent problem</strong></p> <p>To see a clear case of power relations generating biased data, D’Ignazio and Klein note, consider research led by MIT’s own Joy Buolamwini, who as a graduate student in a class studying facial-recognition programs, observed that the software in question could not “see” her face. Buolamwini found that for the facial-recognition system in question, the software was based on a set of faces which were 78 percent male and 84 percent white; only 4 percent were female and dark-skinned, like herself.&nbsp;</p> <p>Subsequent media coverage of Buolamwini’s work, D’Ignazio and Klein write, contained “a hint of shock.” But the results were probably less surprising to those who are not white males, they think.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“If the past is racist, oppressive, sexist, and biased, and that’s your training data, that is what you are tuning for,” D’Ignazio says.</p> <p>Or consider another example, from tech giant Amazon, which tested an automated system that used AI to sort through promising CVs sent in by job applicants. One problem: Because a high percentage of company employees were men, the algorithm favored men’s names, other things being equal.&nbsp;</p> <p>“They thought this would help [the] process, but of course what it does is train the AI [system] to be biased toward women, because they themselves have not hired that many women,” D’Ignazio observes.</p> <p>To Amazon’s credit, it did recognize the problem. Moreover, D’Ignazio notes, this kind of issue is a problem that can be addressed. “Some of the technologies can be reformed with a more participatory process, or better training data. … If we agree that’s a good goal, one path forward is to adjust your training set and include more people of color, more women.”</p> <p><strong>“Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting?” </strong></p> <p>Still, the question of who participates in data science is, as the authors write, “the elephant in the server room.” As of 2011, only 26 percent of all undergraduates receiving computer science degrees in the U.S. were women. That is not only a low figure, but actually a decline from past levels: In 1985, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women, the highest mark on record.</p> <p>As a result of the lack of diversity in the field, D’Ignazio and Klein believe, many data projects are radically limited in their ability to see all facets of the complex social situations they purport to measure.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We want to try to tune people in to these kinds of power relationships and why they matter deeply,” D’Ignazio says. “Who’s on the team? Who had the idea? Who’s benefiting from the project? Who’s potentially harmed by the project?”</p> <p>In all, D’Ignazio and Klein outline seven principles of data feminism, from examining and challenging power, to rethinking binary systems and hierarchies, and embracing pluralism. (Those statistics about gender and computer science graduates are limited, they note, by only using the “male” and “female” categories, thus excluding people who identify in different terms.)</p> <p>People interested in data feminism, the authors state, should also “value multiple forms of knowledge,” including firsthand knowledge that may lead us to question seemingly official data. Also, they should always consider the context in which data are generated, and “make labor visible” when it comes to data science. This last principle, the researchers note, speaks to the problem that even when women and other excluded people contribute to data projects, they often receive less credit for their work.</p> <p>For all the book’s critique of existing systems, programs, and practices, D’Ignazio and Klein are also careful to include examples of positive, successful efforts, such as the WomanStats project, which has grown and thrived over two decades.</p> <p>“For people who are data people but are new to feminism, we want to provide them with a very accessible introduction, and give them concepts and tools they can use in their practice,” D’Ignazio says. “We’re not imagining that people already have feminism in their toolkit. On the other hand, we are trying to speak to folks who are very tuned in to feminism or social justice principles, and highlight for them the ways data science is both problematic, but can be marshalled in the service of justice.”</p> Catherine D’Ignazio is the co-author of a new book, “Data Feminism,” published by MIT Press in March 2020. Image: Diana Levine and MIT PressData, Women, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, MIT Press, Diversity and inclusion, Ethics, Technology and society, Artificial intelligence, Machine learning, Computer science and technology, Urban studies and planning, School of Architecture and Planning 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows named http://news.mit.edu/2020/2020-macvicar-faculty-fellows-named-0309 Anikeeva, Fuller, Tisdale, and White receive MIT&#039;s highest honor in undergraduate teaching. Mon, 09 Mar 2020 00:00:00 -0400 Alison Trachy | Registrar’s Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/2020-macvicar-faculty-fellows-named-0309 <p><em>This article has been updated to reflect the cancellation of the 2020 MacVicar Day symposium.</em></p> <p>The Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Registrar’s Office have announced this year’s Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellows: materials science and engineering Professor Polina Anikeeva, literature Professor Mary Fuller, chemical engineering Professor William Tisdale, and electrical engineering and computer science Professor Jacob White.</p> <p>Role models both in and out of the classroom, the new fellows have tirelessly sought to improve themselves, their students, and the Institute writ large. They have reimagined curricula, crossed disciplines, and pushed the boundaries of what education can be. They join a matchless academy of scholars committed to exceptional instruction and innovation.</p> <p>For nearly three decades, the <a href="https://registrar.mit.edu/faculty-curriculum-support/faculty-awards/margaret-macvicar-faculty-fellows-program">MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program</a> has been recognizing exemplary undergraduate teaching and advising around the Institute. The program was&nbsp;named after Margaret MacVicar, the first dean for undergraduate education and founder of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). Nominations are made by departments and include letters of support from colleagues, students, and alumni. Fellows are appointed to 10-year terms in which they receive $10,000 per year of discretionary funds.</p> <p>This year’s MacVicar Day symposium — which had been scheduled for this Friday, March 13 — has been canceled after <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2020/events-postponed-canceled-covid-19-0309" target="_self">new MIT policies on events</a> were set in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus.</p> <p><strong>Polina Anikeeva</strong></p> <p>“I’m speechless,” Polina Anikeeva, associate professor of materials science and engineering and brain and cognitive sciences, says of becoming a MacVicar Fellow. “In my opinion, this is the greatest honor one could have at MIT.”</p> <p>Anikeeva received her PhD from MIT in 2009 and became a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering two years later. She attended St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University for her undergraduate education. Through her research — which combines materials science, electronics, and neurobiology — she works to better understand and treat brain disorders.</p> <p>Anikeeva’s colleague Christopher Schuh says, “Her ability and willingness to work with students however and whenever they need help, her engaging classroom persona, and her creative solutions to real-time challenges all culminate in one of MIT’s most talented and beloved undergraduate professors.”</p> <p>As an instructor, advisor, and <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2017/sanity-of-the-long-distance-runner-polina-anikeeva-0413">marathon runner</a>, Anikeeva has learned the importance of finding balance. Her colleague Lionel Kimerling reflects on this delicate equilibrium: “As a teacher, Professor Anikeeva is among the elite who instruct, inspire, and nurture at the same time. It is a difficult task to demand rigor with a gentle mentoring hand.”</p> <p>Students call her classes “incredibly hard” but fun and exciting at the same time. She is “the consummate scientist, splitting her time evenly between honing her craft, sharing knowledge with students and colleagues, and mentoring aspiring researchers,” wrote one.</p> <p>Her passion for her work and her devotion to her students are evident in the nomination letters. One student recounted their first conversation: “We spoke for 15 minutes, and after talking to her about her research and materials science, I had never been so viscerally excited about anything.” This same student described the guidance and support Anikeeva provided her throughout her time at MIT. After working with Anikeeva to apply what she learned in the classroom to a real-world problem, this student recalled, “I honestly felt like an engineer and a scientist for the first time ever. I have never felt so fulfilled and capable. And I realize that’s what I want for the rest of my life — to feel the highs and lows of discovery.”</p> <p>Anikeeva champions her students in faculty and committee meetings as well. She is a “reliable advocate for student issues,” says Caroline Ross, associate department head and professor in DMSE. “Professor Anikeeva is always engaged with students, committed to student well-being, and passionate about education.”</p> <p>“Undergraduate teaching has always been a crucial part of my MIT career and life,” Anikeeva reflects. “I derive my enthusiasm and energy from the incredibly talented MIT students — every year they surprise me with their ability to rise to ever-expanding intellectual challenges. Watching them grow as scientists, engineers, and — most importantly — people is like nothing else.”</p> <p><strong>Mary Fuller</strong></p> <p>Experimentation is synonymous with education at MIT and it is a crucial part of literature Professor Mary Fuller’s classes. As her colleague Arthur Bahr notes, “Mary’s habit of starting with a discrete practical challenge can yield insights into much broader questions.”</p> <p>Fuller attended Dartmouth College as an undergraduate, then received both her MA and PhD in English and American literature from The Johns Hopkins University. She began teaching at MIT in 1989. From 2013 to 2019, Fuller was head of the Literature Section. Her successor in the role, Shankar Raman, says that her nominators “found [themselves] repeatedly surprised by the different ways Mary has pushed the limits of her teaching here, going beyond her own comfort zones to experiment with new texts and techniques.”</p> <p>“Probably the most significant thing I’ve learned in 30 years of teaching here is how to ask more and better questions,” says Fuller. As part of a series of discussions on ethics and computing, she has explored the possibilities of <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-common-ground-stories-mary-fuller">artificial intelligence</a> from a literary perspective. She is also developing a tool for the edX platform called PoetryViz, which would allow MIT students and students around the world to practice close reading through poetry annotation in an entirely new way.</p> <p>“We all innovate in our teaching. Every year. But, some of us innovate more than others,” Krishna Rajagopal, dean for digital learning, observes. “In addition to being an outstanding innovator, Mary is one of those colleagues who weaves the fabric of undergraduate education across the Institute.”</p> <p>Lessons learned in Fuller’s class also underline the importance of a well-rounded education. As one alumna reflected, “Mary’s teaching carried a compassion and ethic which enabled non-humanities students to appreciate literature as a diverse, valuable, and rewarding resource for personal and social reflection.”</p> <p>Professor Fuller, another student remarked, has created “an environment where learning is not merely the digestion of rote knowledge, but instead the broad-based exploration of ideas and the works connected to them.”</p> <p>“Her imagination is capacious, her knowledge is deep, and students trust her — so that they follow her eagerly into new and exploratory territory,” says Professor of Literature Stephen Tapscott.</p> <p>Fuller praises her students’ willingness to take that journey with her, saying, “None of my classes are required, and none are technical, so I feel that students have already shown a kind of intellectual generosity by putting themselves in the room to do the work.”</p> <p>For students, the hard work is worth it. Mary Fuller, one nominator declared, is exactly “the type of deeply impactful professor that I attended MIT hoping to learn from.”</p> <p><strong>William Tisdale</strong></p> <p>William Tisdale is the ARCO Career Development Professor of chemical engineering and, according to his colleagues, a “true star” in the department.</p> <p>A member of the faculty since 2012, he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware and his PhD from the University of Minnesota. After a year as a postdoc at MIT, Tisdale became an assistant professor. His <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcypPycfSWk">research interests</a> include nanotechnology and energy transport.</p> <p>Tisdale’s colleague Kristala Prather calls him a “curriculum fixer.” During an internal review of Course 10 subjects, the department discovered that 10.213 (Chemical and Biological Engineering) was the least popular subject in the major and needed to be revised. After carefully evaluating the coursework, and despite having never taught 10.213 himself, Tisdale envisioned a novel way of teaching it. With his suggestions, the class went from being “despised” to loved, with subject evaluations improving by 70 percent from one spring to the next. “I knew Will could make a difference, but I had no idea he could make that big of a difference in just one year,” remarks Prather. One student nominator even went so far as to call 10.213, as taught by Tisdale, “one of my best experiences at MIT.”</p> <p>Always patient, kind, and adaptable, Tisdale’s willingness to tackle difficult problems is reflected in his teaching. “While the class would occasionally start to mutiny when faced with a particularly confusing section, Prof. Tisdale would take our groans on with excitement,” wrote one student. “His attitude made us feel like we could all get through the class together.” Regardless of how they performed on a test, wrote another, Tisdale “clearly sent the message that we all always have so much more to learn, but that first and foremost he respected you as a person.”</p> <p>“I don’t think I could teach the way I teach at many other universities,” Tisdale says. “MIT students show up on the first day of class with an innate desire to understand the world around them; all I have to do is pull back the curtain!”</p> <p>“Professor Tisdale remains the best teacher, mentor, and role model that I have encountered,” one student remarked. “He has truly changed the course of my life.”</p> <p>“I am extremely thankful to be at a university that values undergraduate education so highly,” Tisdale says. “Those of us who devote ourselves to undergraduate teaching and mentoring do so out of a strong sense of responsibility to the students as well as a genuine love of learning. There are few things more validating than being rewarded for doing something that already brings you joy.”</p> <p><strong>Jacob White</strong></p> <p>Jacob White is the Cecil H. Green Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and chair of the Committee on Curricula. After completing his undergraduate degree at MIT, he received a master’s degree and doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. He has been a member of the Course 6 faculty since 1987.</p> <p>Colleagues and students alike observed White’s dedication not just to teaching, but to improving teaching throughout the Institute. As Luca Daniel and Asu Ozdaglar of the EECS department noted in their nomination letter, “Jacob completely understands that the most efficient way to make his passion and ideas for undergraduate education have a real lasting impact is to ‘teach it to the teachers!’”</p> <p>One student wrote that White “has spent significant time and effort educating the lab assistants” of 6.302 (Feedback System Design). As one of these teaching assistants confirmed, White’s “enthusiastic spirit” inspired them to spend hours discussing how to best teach the subject. “Many people might think this is not how they want to spend their Thursday nights,” the student wrote. “I can speak for myself and the other TAs when I say that it was an incredibly fun and educational experience.”</p> <p>His work to improve instruction has even expanded to other departments. A colleague describes White’s efforts to revamp 8.02 (Physics II) as “Herculean.” Working with a group of students and postdocs to develop experiments for this subject, “he seemed to be everywhere at once … while simultaneously teaching his own class.” Iterations took place over a year and a half, after which White trained the subject’s TAs as well. Hundreds of students are benefitting from these improved experiments.</p> <p>White is, according to Daniel and Ozdaglar, “a colleague who sincerely, genuinely, and enormously cares about our undergraduate students and their education, not just in our EECS department, but also in our entire MIT home.”</p> <p>When he’s not fine-tuning pedagogy or conducting teacher training, he is personally supporting his students. A visiting student described White’s attention: “He would regularly meet with us in groups of two to make sure we were learning. In a class of about 80 students in a huge lecture hall, it really felt like he cared for each of us.”</p> <p>And his zeal has rubbed off: “He made me feel like being excited about the material was the most important thing,” one student wrote.</p> <p>The significance of such a spark is not lost on White. "As an MIT freshman in the late 1970s, I joined an undergraduate research program being pioneered by Professor Margaret MacVicar," he says. "It was Professor MacVicar and UROP that put me on the academic's path of looking for interesting problems with instructive solutions. It is a path I have walked for decades, with extraordinary colleagues and incredible students. So, being selected as a MacVicar Fellow? No honor could mean more to me."</p> The 2020 MacVicar Faculty Fellows are: (clockwise from top left) Polina Anikeeva, Jacob White, William Tisdale, and Mary Fuller.Photos (clockwise from top left): Lillie Paquette, Sampson Wilcox, Webb Chappell, Jon SachsOffice of the Vice Chancellor, MacVicar fellows, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Materials Science and Engineering, Literature, EdX, Electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Awards, honors and fellowships, Education, teaching, academics, Mentoring, Undergraduate, Chemical engineering Agustín Rayo wins 2020 PROSE Award http://news.mit.edu/2020/mit-augustin-rayo-wins-prose-award-0304 MIT philosophy professor&#039;s “On the Brink of Paradox” honored as one of the best books in professional and scholarly publishing. Wed, 04 Mar 2020 13:00:01 -0500 MIT Press http://news.mit.edu/2020/mit-augustin-rayo-wins-prose-award-0304 <p>The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has announced the winners for the 2020 PROSE Awards, which annually recognize the best in professional and scholarly publishing. Among the winners is “<a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/brink-paradox" target="_blank">On the Brink of Paradox: Highlights from the Intersection of Philosophy and Mathematics</a>” (MIT Press, 2019) by Agustín Rayo, author and professor of philosophy at MIT.</p> <p>The book won for the textbook/humanities category. In it, Rayo, who is also associate dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, offers an introduction to awe-inspiring issues at the intersection of philosophy and mathematics and explores ideas at the brink of paradox: infinities of different sizes, time travel, probability and measure theory, computability theory, the Grandfather Paradox, Newcomb's Problem, and others. The book is based on a popular course (<a href="https://www.edx.org/course/paradox-and-infinity" target="_blank">and massive open online course</a>) taught by the author at MIT.</p> <p>The AAP unveiled 49 subject category <a href="https://publishers.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-PROSE-CATEGORY-WINNERS-LIST-for-Press-Release.pdf" target="_blank">winners&nbsp;</a>for the 2020&nbsp;<a href="https://proseawards.com/">PROSE Awards</a>&nbsp;honoring the best scholarly works published in 2019. The winners were selected by a panel of 19 judges from the&nbsp;<a href="https://publishers.org/news/association-of-american-publishers-announces-finalists-for-2020-prose-awards/">157 finalists</a>&nbsp;previously identified from the more than 630 entries in this year’s PROSE Awards competition. The subject category winners announced demonstrate exceptional scholarship and have made a significant contribution to a field of study.</p> <p>“I want to congratulate the winners of this year’s PROSE Awards and recognize the 10 MIT Press books that were named finalists,” says Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press. “'On the Brink' offers unique and compelling insights into mathematics and reflects the overall mission of the MIT Press to push the boundaries of what a university press can be. We are honored to be among the other winners for this distinguished prize.”</p> <p>Another MIT Press book, “<a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/decomposed">Decomposed: The Political Ecology of Music</a>,” by Kyle Devine, also won a PROSE Award for the music and the performing arts category.</p> MIT Press, Awards, honors and fellowships, Books and authors, Faculty, Philosophy, Mathematics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Design, power, and justice http://news.mit.edu/2020/design-justice-book-0304 In new book “Design Justice,” Associate Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock examines how to make technology work for more people in society. Tue, 03 Mar 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/design-justice-book-0304 <p>When Sasha Costanza-Chock goes through airport security, it is an unusually uncomfortable experience.</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, an MIT associate professor, is transgender and nonbinary. They use the pronouns they/them, and their body does not match binary norms. But airport security millimeter wave scanners are set up with binary, male/female configurations. To operate the machine, agents press a button based on their assumptions about the person entering the scanner: blue for “boy,” or pink for “girl.” &nbsp;The machine nearly always flags Costanza-Chock for a hands-on check by security officials.</p> <p>“I know I’m almost certainly about to experience an embarrassing, uncomfortable, and perhaps humiliating search … after my body is flagged as anomalous by the millimeter wave scanner,” they write, recounting one such episode, in a new book about technology, design, and social justice.</p> <p>This is an experience familiar to many who fall outside the system’s norms, Costanza-Chock explains: Trans and gender nonconforming people’s bodies, black women’s hair, head wraps, and assistive devices are regularly flagged as “risky.”</p> <p>The airport security scanner is just one type of problem that emerges when technology does not match social reality. There are biases built into everyday objects, including software interfaces, medical devices, social media, and the built environment, and these biases reflect existing power structures in society.</p> <p>The new book — “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press — looks broadly at such shortcomings and offers a framework for fixing them while lifting up methods of technology design that can be used to help build a more inclusive future.</p> <p>“Design justice is both a community of practice, and a framework for analysis,” says Costanza-Chock, who is the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program. “In the book I’m trying to both narrate the emergence of this community, based on my own participation in it, and rethink some of the core concepts from design theory through this lens.”</p> <p><strong>Who designs? </strong></p> <p>The book has its roots in the activities of the Design Justice Network (DJN), founded in 2016 with the aim of “rethinking design processes so they center people who are often marginalized by design,” in the organization’s own description. (Costanza-Chock sits on the DJN’s steering committee.) The book draws on the concepts of intersectional feminism and the idea that technologies, and society more broadly, are structured by what the black feminist sociologist Patricia Hill Collins calls a “matrix of domination” in the form of white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, capitalism, and settler colonialism.</p> <p>The book also looks at the issue of who designs technology, a subject Costanza-Chock has examined extensively — for instance in the 2018 report “#MoreThanCode,” which pointed out the need for more systematic inclusion and equity efforts in the emerging field of public interest technology.</p> <p>“There is a growing conversation about the lack of intersectional racial and gender diversity in the tech sector,” notes Costanza-Chock. “Many Silicon Valley firms are now producing diversity statistics every year. …&nbsp; But just because it’s being recognized doesn’t mean it’s going to be solved any time soon.”</p> <p>The problem of designing fairly for society is not as simple as diversifying that workforce, however.</p> <p>“Design justice goes farther,” Costanza-Chock says. “Even if we had extremely diverse teams of people working inside Silicon Valley, they would by and large still be mostly organizing their time and energy around producing products that would be attractive to a very thin slice of the global population — people who have disposable income, always-on internet connectivity, and broadband.”</p> <p>Still, the two problems are related, and “Design Justice” references a wide range of innovation areas where a lack of design inclusivity generates problematic products. Many product users have long had to devise ad-hoc improvements to technology themselves. For instance, nurses have often been prolific innovators, tinkering with medical devices — a phenomenon partly unearthed, the book notes, by Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of MIT’s Little Devices Lab.</p> <p>“Every day, all around us, people are innovating in small and large ways, based on everyday needs,” Costanza-Chock reflects. Although that’s not what we hear from tech firms, which often circulate narratives “about a lone genius inventor, who had a ‘eureka’ moment and created a product and brought it into the world.”</p> <p>For instance, in one widely circulated story, Twitter’s origins flow from a flash of insight by co-founder Jack Dorsey. Another version assigns its beginnings to hackers and activists of the Indymedia network and to then-MIT researcher Tad Hirsch, who in 2004 created a tool for protestors called TXTMob, which served as the demo design for the first Twitter prototype.</p> <p>“I’m not making a claim in the book for the one true origin story,” explains Costanza-Chock. “I’m emphasizing that technological innovation and design processes are quite messy, and that people are often marginalized from the stories we hear about the creation of new tools. Social movements are often hotbeds of innovation, but their contributions aren't always recognized.”</p> <p><strong>Better hackathons and more collaboration</strong></p> <p>Costanza-Chock does believe that design processes can be made more inclusive. In the book, they draw on years of experience teaching the <a href="http://codesign.mit.edu">MIT Collaborative Design Studio </a>to synthesize lessons for inclusive innovation. For example: Try staging a hackathon that is more inclusive than the usual format of marathon sessions catered only to twenty-something coders.</p> <p>“I really enjoy hackathons, and I have participated in many of them myself,” Costanza-Chock says. “That said, hackathons … tend to be dominated by certain kinds of people. They tend to be gendered, more accessible to younger people who don’t have kids, can take an entire day or weekend for free labor, and who can survive on pizza and soda.”</p> <p>Whether designing a hackathon or building a long-term design team, “There are many ways to be better and more inclusive,” Costanza-Chock adds. “You need people with domain experience in the areas you’re working on, personal experience, or deep knowledge from study. If you’re working on Boston’s urban transit systems, you need to have people from different places in those systems on your designs teams, from the MBTA [Boston’s transit authority] to people that ride transit on a daily basis.”</p> <p>Scholars who examine the social dimension of innovation have praised “Design Justice.” Princeton University sociologist Ruha Benjamin has said the book “offers essential tools for rethinking and reimagining the social infrastructure of tech design.”</p> <p>Costanza-Chock, for one, hopes the book will interest people not only for the criticism it offers, but as a way of moving forward and deploying better practices.</p> <p>“My book is not primarily or only critique,” Costanza-Chock says. “One of the things about the Design Justice Network is that we try to spend more time building than tearing down. I think design justice is about articulating a critique, while constantly trying to point toward ways of doing things better.”</p> Sasha Costanza-Chock, the Mitsui Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing program, is author of a new book, “Design Justice: Community Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need,” published by the MIT Press.Photo: Caydie McCumberComparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, Diversity and inclusion, Technology and society, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences 3 Questions: Isabelle de Courtivron on the shock of becoming old http://news.mit.edu/2020/shock-of-becoming-old-isabelle-de-dourtivron-0203 MIT professor emerita talks about her new memoir and aging in a patriarchal society. Mon, 03 Feb 2020 16:00:01 -0500 MIT Global Languages http://news.mit.edu/2020/shock-of-becoming-old-isabelle-de-dourtivron-0203 <p><em>“Only those in whom youth has not entirely died are capable of speaking of old age,” writes Benoite Groult; this makes MIT Professor Emerita Isabelle de Courtivron eminently qualified to write on the subject. A professor of French literature, former head of Foreign Languages and Literatures (now Global Languages), and director of women’s studies before her retirement, De Courtivron’s latest book, “<a href="https://livre.fnac.com/a13934030/Isabelle-de-Courtivron-L-Ete-ou-je-suis-devenue-vieille" target="_blank">L'Eté où je suis devenue vieille</a>” (“The Summer When I Became Old”), is forthcoming from L’iconoclaste later this month. The memoir takes on the rarely-discussed subject of aging for women, and De Courtivron tells her tale with “rare sincerity tinged with humor.” The book has been called “brilliant” and “provocative.” Professor Emma Teng, director of Global Languages, caught up recently with de Courtivron to discuss.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What inspired you to write this book?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I took early retirement from MIT 10 years ago, and decided to go live in Paris in order to fully enjoy its numerous cultural events and return to a country where art and pleasure were still essential values. Also, I wanted to travel around the world to see all of the magical places that I had not had the time to visit.</p> <p>This I did for 10 years. I spent my 70th birthday with friends on Easter Island.</p> <p>Then my body and my mind began to let me know that I was on the cusp of getting old. This was a total shock, in part because I had never really thought about it before, and because it threatened a life dedicated to independence, freedom from social restraints, nonconformity, and being unafraid to take risks. When this happened, I began the hard work of thinking differently about my past, and about significant topics such as family, friendship, love, literature, career, feminism, technology. I also tried to express my difficulties in facing a world that had changed so drastically since I was young. A world in which I now felt increasingly invisible and inaudible — especially as a woman.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> You have written extensively on the differences between feminism in the United States and in France. Are there any gendered differences in these two countries when it comes to the experience of aging?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> It is risky to generalize, but clearly the concepts of “femininity” and “masculinity” are quite different in every country, and each has been determined by centuries of culture and history. In an article I wrote in 2000 about the middle years in women’s memoirs, where I tried to make a comparison based on my readings, I concluded that “French women tend to wax poetic, fatalistic and serene; Anglo-Saxon women tend to wax angry, energetic and political.” I now think this has in some ways remained the same, at least for my generation, but is also changing for young women today. After years of rejecting feminism as a threatening American import leading to the dangerous separatism of the sexes, I have been happily surprised by the new fourth wave of feminism occurring in France during the past five years or so. Young women are now vigorously and increasingly affirming and broadening the values, demands, and vision that my friends and I espoused when we were their age, and that clearly receded in the ’80s and ’90s. So, while the two cultures today still could not be more dissimilar, I think that this will be less the case in the future, at least as far as feminist consciousness.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> You have always loved teaching, and students have kept you young at heart. What inspiration have you drawn from students?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Despite some of the bumpy rides I experienced over my teaching career, I am grateful to the Institute for the freedom I was granted to move from teaching French literature, to teaching women’s studies, to moving into translingual and transcultural studies during my 30 years at MIT. I was never bored, and the challenge of getting MIT students to talk, read, debate, and write outside of their comfort zone was always rewarding. The last third of my teaching life made me acutely aware of the diversity of young people on campus and of the difficulties they confront in being immigrants or hybrid in any way. Soon, there were no more awkward silences in classes, as students from all over the world read, discussed, and wrote about the vexing issues of language and relationships to previous generations, and about the painful questioning of identity. This was immensely rewarding because these revelations often led them to new directions and a new understanding of self and others. This, I believe, was always my mission in teaching in the humanities, where questions are often more fruitful than answers and thus central to any undergraduate education.</p> Isabelle de Courtivron's latest work takes on the controversial subject of aging for women, with its particular implications in French culture. Photo: Ed AlcockGlobal Studies and Languages, 3 Questions, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Aging, Women, France, History, Humanities, Books and authors 3 Questions: Kang Zhou on the lessons of Chinese calligraphy http://news.mit.edu/2020/3-questions-kang-zhou-lessons-of-chinese-calligraphy-0128 When we appreciate calligraphy works in class, we also analyze the life experiences and stories of each calligrapher’s unique style. Tue, 28 Jan 2020 15:40:01 -0500 Lisa Hickler | MIT Global Languages http://news.mit.edu/2020/3-questions-kang-zhou-lessons-of-chinese-calligraphy-0128 <p><em>Kang Zhou is a lecturer in Chinese in MIT Global Languages. His class, 21G.111 (Chinese Calligraphy), teaches the fundamentals of one of the best-known traditional arts during the Institute's Independent Activities Period in January. Students taking this class may be learning Chinese as a second language but are not required to speak the language to participate. Here, he explores some of the secrets behind the calligraphy craft, as well as reasons for creating this IAP class at MIT.</em></p> <p><strong>Q.</strong> What is the difference between teaching the writing of Chinese characters and teaching Chinese calligraphy?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> When teaching Chinese characters in traditional Chinese class, emphasis is placed on accuracy in writing the characters. The students need to understand and grasp the structure, stroke order, and other basic knowledge. However, in calligraphy class, we decipher these Chinese characters to gain more insight into them. We study the evolution of the characters — that is, where did they come from and how have they changed? How have the shapes of these characters developed in the thousands of years since originating from oracle bone script? What are the different calligraphy styles? What aesthetic standards have people held for calligraphy during different time periods? What kind of personal experiences, as well as social and cultural information, is reflected in each calligrapher’s unique style? We often say that when looking at the work of a great calligrapher, we can actually see that entire era. With this in mind, we also wonder how the art of calligraphy interacts with Chinese society and daily life. These are the type of questions we study when learning calligraphy.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What do you think students take away from this class?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Studying Chinese characters and calligraphy is essentially about communication — helping us convey and appreciate feelings. The class places great emphasis on increasing contact and building relationships with others through the art of calligraphy. We have card-making activities and giving “fortune” for Lunar New Year. We also have a class trip to the [Boston] Museum of Fine Arts to appreciate the art of calligraphy. Students gain an appreciation for not only the art of calligraphy, but how you can learn about Chinese culture through the perspective of calligraphy and characters. Also important is practicing the vital principles of calligraphy: meditation, concentration, observation, and reflection. One of the important aesthetic principles of calligraphy is balance, which greatly aids students’ study and life.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How did you learn calligraphy?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I was born in the countryside of Xi’an, Shaanxi, and my first introduction to calligraphy came from my grandfather. He wrote beautiful script, so he would help other villagers write documents, and in doing so, gained great respect from the village and was known as the “cultural man.” I was very curious how someone could gain such status from being skilled at calligraphy, and through this I realized the power of Chinese characters. My parents greatly valued my calligraphy education, and I started going to the city for calligraphy classes from a young age.</p> <p>Later on, I had the opportunity to meet a famed calligrapher and learn from him. Interestingly, it seemed to me that this old calligrapher taught me more on how to be a good person. He often said: “If a person does not do well, the characters will not be written well; if the person is honorable, only then will the characters be written correctly.” Thinking about it now, it is a fascinating notion that calligraphy makes children start to contemplate what makes a person good from such a young age. Later, I realized that in Chinese culture, admiration of calligraphers’ works involves not only critique from an artistic perspective, but also evaluation of the calligraphers’ morality and character. Therefore, when we appreciate calligraphy works in class, we also analyze the life experiences and stories of the calligraphers to further our understanding.</p> Kang Zhou, a lecturer in Chinese in MIT Global Studies and Languages, teaches the fundamentals of Chinese calligraphy during the MIT's Independent Activities Period in January.Photo: Lisa HicklerSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, 3 Questions, Global Studies and Languages, Faculty, China, Writing, Classes and programs, Arts Blood and politics in India http://news.mit.edu/2020/dwai-banerjee-blood-politics-india-0122 New book explores the use of blood in political rhetoric, imagery, and activism, and even the politics of blood drives. Tue, 21 Jan 2020 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2020/dwai-banerjee-blood-politics-india-0122 <p>Mahatma Gandhi, an icon of nonviolent resistance who helped lead India to independence by force of will and strength of mind, rather than physical power, might not seem like a person preoccupied with corporeal matters.</p> <p>In fact, Gandhi endlessly monitored his own blood pressure and had a “preoccupation with blood,” as MIT scholar Dwai Banerjee and co-author Jacob Copeman write in “Hematologies,” a new book about blood and politics in India.</p> <p>Gandhi believed the quality of his own blood indicated his body’s “capacity for self-purification,” the authors write, and he hoped that other dissidents would also possess “blood that could withstand the corruption and poison of colonial violence.” Ultimately, they add, Gandhi’s “single-minded focus on the substance was remarkable in its omission of other available foci of symbolization.”</p> <p>If India’s most famous ascetic and pacifist was actually busy thinking about politics in terms of blood, then almost anyone could have been doing the same. And many people have. Now Banerjee, an assistant professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and Copeman, a senior lecturer in social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh, look broadly at the links between blood and politics in “Hematologies,” recently published by Cornell University Press.</p> <p>The book encompasses topics as diverse as the rhetoric of blood in political discourse, the politics of blood drives, the uses of blood in protests, and the imagery used by leaders, including Gandhi. Ultimately, the scholars use the topic to explore the many — and seemingly unavoidable — divisions in Indian politics and society.</p> <p>For progressives wanting a pluralistic society, the rhetoric of blood has often been used to claim that people are essentially alike, no matter their religious or social differences. The notion is that “if you bleed and I bleed, we bleed the same color,” Banerjee says. “In the first few decades after India’s independence [in 1948], there was this idea that blood would unite all different kinds of Indians, and all these years of caste discrimination and colonial rule that had divided us and pitted us against each other would now be fixed.”</p> <p>But the idea that different groups in society are divided by blood is also a powerful one, as Banerjee and Copeman note, and as India has moved away from pluralism in recent years, a very different rhetoric of blood has regained popularity. In this vision, different ethnic or religious groups are separated by their blood — and bloodshed may be the price for disrupting this supposed order.</p> <p>“What’s become clear in the last five years is that this other valence of blood, that it divides us [and has] more violent connotations, is becoming much more inescapable now,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>That is not what many expected in an age of technocratic and globally integrated economics, but it is a reminder of the power of narrow forms of nationalism.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The whole idea of modern politics is supposed to be this transcending of blood [and] ethnic religious nationalisms, and that modern contractual politics is based on less biologically based forms of cohabitation,” Banerjee says. “That never seems to work out.”</p> <p>Focused on Northern India, where Banerjee and Copeman did their fieldwork over several years, “Hematologies” explores these issues in everyday life and with fine-grained detail. As they examine in the book, for instance, political protesters sometimes use their own blood as a medium of expression, to signal both their own commitment and the serious of the issues at hand.</p> <p>The authors look closely at an advocacy group for survivors of (and residents near) the site of 1984’s Bhopal chemical plant disaster, which wrote a letter in blood — collected from young adults — to the prime minister, asking for a meeting. Somewhat similarly, Indian women have gained attention using blood in the imagery they have created to accompany campaigns against sexual violence and gender discrimination. In so doing, “they deploy the substance as a medium of truth and a mechanism of exposure,” Banerjee and Copeman write.</p> <p>Even blood drives and blood donations have intricate political implications that the authors explore. While supposed to be separated from politics, some blood drives are de facto rallying points in campaigns and expressions of political solidarity. Blood drives also serve to highlight a tension between science and politics; some medical experts might prefer a more steady flow of donated blood, while a politically prompted donor drive can produce an unnecessary surge of blood.</p> <p>“Educational campaigns talk very strategically about this,” Banerjee says.</p> <p>While writing the book together, Banerjee and Copeman initially had slightly different research areas of interest, but before long both discovered they were fully engaged with a whole range of connections between blood and politics.</p> <p>“To me, it seemed we found this synergy in the way we worked and thought, and I can’t think of a moment where we ever significantly doubted the process we were going through,” says Banerjee. “Constantly bouncing ideas off another person keeps it interesting.”</p> <p>“Hematologies” has drawn praise from other scholars in the field. Emily Martin, an anthropologist at New York University, has called it “an extraordinary exploration of the multitudes of meanings and uses of blood in northern India.”&nbsp;</p> <p>Banerjee notes that India is hardly unique in the way the rhetoric of blood spills into politics. “There is a global similarity in which blood is always a political substance,” he notes, while adding that India’s own unique history gives the subject “its own flavor” in the country.</p> <p>Ultimately the story of blood being traced in “Hematologies” represents a distinctive way of examining divisions, conflicts, and tensions — the very stuff of contested politics and power.</p> <p>“Again and again we see that blood always gets caught up with division and divisive politics,” Banerjee says. “It never escapes politics in the way that reformist and secular imaginations hope it will.”</p> Dwai Banerjee is co-author of a new book titled “Hematologies: The Political Life of Blood in India.” Image: Jon Sachs, MIT SHASS CommunicationsTechnology and society, Social sciences, India, Program in STS, Books and authors, Faculty, Politics, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Bose grants for 2019 reward bold ideas across disciplines http://news.mit.edu/2019/bose-grants-reward-bold-ideas-across-disciplines-1223 Three innovative research projects in literature, plant epigenetics, and chemical engineering will be supported by Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants. Mon, 23 Dec 2019 14:40:11 -0500 MIT Resource Development http://news.mit.edu/2019/bose-grants-reward-bold-ideas-across-disciplines-1223 <p>Now in their seventh year, the Professor Amar G. Bose Research Grants support visionary projects that represent intellectual curiosity and a pioneering spirit. Three MIT faculty members have each been awarded one of these prestigious awards for 2019 to pursue diverse questions in the humanities, biology, and engineering.</p> <p>At a ceremony hosted by MIT President L. Rafael Reif on Nov. 25 and attended by past awardees, Provost Martin Schmidt, the Ray and Maria Stata Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, formally announced this year’s Amar G. Bose Research Fellows: Sandy Alexandre, Mary Gehring, and Kristala L.J. Prather.</p> <p>The fellowships are named&nbsp;for&nbsp;the late Amar G. Bose ’51, SM ’52, ScD ’56, a longtime MIT faculty member and the founder of the Bose Corporation. Speaking at the event, President Reif expressed appreciation for the Bose Fellowships, which enable highly creative and unusual research in areas that can be hard to fund through traditional means. “We are tremendously grateful to the Bose family for providing the support that allows bold and curious thinkers at MIT to dream big, challenge themselves, and explore.”</p> <p>Judith Bose, widow of Amar’s son, Vanu ’87, SM ’94, PhD ’99, congratulated the fellows on behalf of the Bose family. “We talk a lot at this event about the power of a great innovative idea, but I think it was a personal mission of Dr. Bose to nurture the ability, in each individual that he met along the way, to follow through — not just to have the great idea but the agency that comes with being able to pursue your idea, follow it through, and actually see where it leads,” Bose said. “And Vanu was the same way. That care that was epitomized by Dr. Bose not just in the idea itself, but in the personal investment, agency, and nurturing necessary to bring the idea to life — that care is a large part of what makes true change in the world."</p> <p><strong>The relationship between literature and engineering</strong></p> <p>Many technological innovations have resulted from the influence of literature, one of the most notable being the World Wide Web. According to many sources, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s inventor, found inspiration from a short story by Arthur C. Clarke titled “Dial F for Frankenstein.” Science fiction has presaged a number of real-life technological innovations, including&nbsp;the defibrillator, noted in Mary Shelley’s "Frankenstein;" the submarine, described in Jules Verne’s "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea;" and earbuds, described in Ray Bradbury’s "Fahrenheit 451." But the data about literature’s influence on STEM innovations are spotty, and these one-to-one relationships are not always clear-cut.</p> <p>Sandy Alexandre, associate professor of literature, intends to change that by creating a large-scale database of the imaginary inventions found in literature. Alexandre’s project will enact the step-by-step mechanics of STEM innovation via one of its oft-unsung sources: literature. “To deny or sever the ties that bind STEM and literature is to suggest — rather disingenuously — that the ideas for many of the STEM devices that we know and love miraculously just came out of nowhere or from an elsewhere where literature isn’t considered relevant or at all,” she says.</p> <p>During the first phase of her work, Alexandre will collaborate with students to enter into the database the imaginary inventions as they are described verbatim in a selection of books and other texts that fall under the category of speculative fiction—a category that includes but is not limited to the subgenres of fantasy, Afrofuturism, and science fiction. This first phase will, of course, require that students carefully read these texts in general, but also read for these imaginary inventions more specifically. Additionally, students with drawing skills will be tasked with interpreting the descriptions by illustrating them as two-dimensional images.</p> <p>From this vast inventory of innovations, Alexandre, in consultation with students involved in the project, will decide on a short list of inventions that meet five criteria: they must be feasible, ethical, worthwhile, useful, and necessary. This vetting process, which constitutes the second phase of the project, is guided by a very important question: what can creating and thinking with a vast database of speculative fiction’s imaginary inventions teach us about what kinds of ideas we should (and shouldn’t) attempt to make into a reality? For the third and final phase, Alexandre will convene a team to build a real-life prototype of one of the imaginary inventions. She envisions this prototype being placed on exhibit at the MIT Museum.</p> <p>The Bose research grant, Alexandre says, will allow her to take this project from a thought experiment to lab experiment. “This project aims to ensure that literature no longer play an overlooked role in STEM innovations. Therefore, the STEM innovation, which will be the culminating prototype of this research project, will cite a work of literature as the main source of information used in its invention.”</p> <p><strong>Nature’s role in chemical production</strong></p> <p>Kristala L.J. Prather ’94, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been focused on using biological systems for chemical production during the 15 years she’s been at the Institute. Biology as a medium for chemical synthesis has been successfully exploited to commercially produce molecules for uses that range from food to pharmaceuticals — ethanol is a good example. However, there is a range of other molecules with which scientists have been trying to work, but they have faced challenges around an insufficient amount of material being produced and a lack of defined steps needed to make a specific compound.</p> <p>Prather’s research is rooted in the fact that there are a number of naturally (and unnaturally) occurring chemical compounds in the environment, and cells have evolved to be able to consume them. These cells have evolved or developed a protein that will sense a compound’s presence — a biosensor — and in response will make other proteins that help the cells utilize that compound for its benefit.</p> <p>“We know biology can do this,” Prather says, “so if we can put together a sufficiently diverse set of microorganisms, can we just let nature make these regulatory molecules for anything that we want to be able to sense or detect?” Her hypothesis is that if her team exposes cells to a new compound for a long enough period of time, the cells will evolve the ability to either utilize that carbon source or develop an ability to respond to it. If Prather and her team can then identify the protein that’s now recognizing what that new compound is, they can isolate it and use it to improve the production of that compound in other systems. “The idea is to let nature evolve specificity for particular molecules that we’re interested in,” she adds.</p> <p>Prather’s lab has been working with biosensors for some time, but her team has been limited to sensors that are already well characterized and that were readily available. She’s interested in how they can get access to a wider range of what she knows nature has available through the incremental exposure of new compounds to a more comprehensive subset of microorganisms.</p> <p>“To accelerate the transformation of the chemical industry, we must find a way to create better biological catalysts and to create new tools when the existing ones are insufficient,” Prather says. “I am grateful to the Bose Fellowship Committee for allowing me to explore this novel idea.”</p> <p>Prather’s findings as a result of this project hold the possibility of broad impacts in the field of metabolic engineering, including the development of microbial systems that can be engineered to enhance degradation of both toxic and nontoxic waste.</p> <p><strong>Adopting orphan crops to adapt to climate change</strong></p> <p>In the context of increased environmental pressure and competing land uses, meeting global food security needs is a pressing challenge. Although yield gains in staple grains such as rice, wheat, and corn have been high over the last 50 years, these have been accompanied by a homogenization of the global food supply; only 50 crops provide 90% of global food needs.</p> <p>However, there are at least 3,000 plants that can be grown and consumed by humans, and many of these species thrive in marginal soils, at high temperatures, and with little rainfall. These “orphan” crops are important food sources for farmers in less developed countries but have been the subject of little research.</p> <p>Mary Gehring, associate professor of biology at MIT, seeks to bring orphan crops into the molecular age through epigenetic engineering. She is working to promote hybridization, increase genetic diversity, and reveal desired traits for two orphan seed crops: an oilseed crop, <em>Camelina sativa </em>(false flax), and a high-protein legume, <em>Cajanus cajan </em>(pigeon pea).</p> <p><em>C. sativa, </em>which produces seeds with potential for uses in food and biofuel applications, can grow on land with low rainfall, requires minimal fertilizer inputs, and is resistant to several common plant pathogens. Until the mid-20th century, <em>C. sativa </em>was widely grown in Europe but was supplanted by canola, with a resulting loss of genetic diversity. Gehring proposes to recover this genetic diversity by creating and characterizing hybrids between <em>C. sativa </em>and wild relatives that have increased genetic diversity.</p> <p>“To find the best cultivars of orphan crops that will withstand ever increasing environmental insults requires a deeper understanding of the diversity present within these species. We need to expand the plants we rely on for our food supply if we want to continue to thrive in the future,” says Gehring. “Studying orphan crops represents a significant step in that direction. The Bose grant will allow my lab to focus on this historically neglected but vitally important field.”</p> Left to right: MIT Provost Martin Schmidt and President L. Rafael Reif stand with 2019 Bose Fellows Kristala Prather, Mary Gehring, and Sandy Alexandre, along with Judy Bose and Ursula Bose.Photo: Rose LincolnAwards, honors and fellowships, Grants, Faculty, Literature, Technology and society, Chemical engineering, Drug development, Chemistry, Biology, Microbes, Agriculture, Climate change, School of Science, School of Engineering, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Alumni/ae MIT Press authors earn coveted “best of” book honors in 2019 http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-press-authors-earn-best-of-honors-1218 The book publisher continues to produce intellectually daring, scholarly work. Wed, 18 Dec 2019 15:30:01 -0500 MIT Press http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-press-authors-earn-best-of-honors-1218 <p>The MIT Press recently announced that six MIT Press authors were awarded “best of” recognition in 2019. From Bill Gates’ recommendation of “Growth,” by one of his “favorite authors,” to “2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics,” which was selected as the <em>ARTnews</em> No. 1 pick for “Best Art Books of the Decade,” the authors of the MIT Press continue to produce intellectually daring, scholarly work.</p> <p>“We are thrilled to have this recognition given to our forward-thinking authors,” says Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press. “Their work and expertise continue to drive our mission and foster the exchange of ideas, reinforcing the importance of intellectual conversations across the arts and sciences&nbsp;that advance our world.”</p> <p>Awards were given to the following books:</p> <p>“Gyorgy Kepes: Undreaming the Bauhaus,” by John R. Blakinger, was selected by <em>The New York Times</em> as a top art book of 2019 by critic Martha Schwendener.</p> <p>“An overdue treatment of the Hungarian-born artist and designer Gyorgy Kepes explores his career,” wrote Schwendener. “Technology and war are often common threads in Kepes’s work. Innovating forms of camouflage during World War II, his designs coincided with clashes around M.I.T.’s connections with the military during the Vietnam War. Mr. Blakinger argues that Kepes represents a new form of modern artist fluent in and influenced by technology: ‘the artist as technocrat.’”</p> <p>“2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics<strong><em>,</em></strong>”<strong><em> </em></strong>by Andrea Fraser, was the No. 1 pick on the “The Best Art Books of the Decade” by Alex Greenberger, senior editor for <em>ARTnews.</em></p> <p>“Where would we be without Andrea Fraser’s “2016 in Museums, Money, and Politics?” asked Greenberger. “This book has become a touchstone at a time when activists are calling out board members for their political leanings … seeing it all collected neatly in one tome is powerful — as a cool-headed study, an intelligent research-based artwork, and a clarion call for change all in one.”</p> <p>“Mass Effect: Art and the Internet in the Twenty-First Century,” edited by Lauren Cornell and Ed Halter, was No. 4 on Greenberger’s “Best Art Books of the Decade.”</p> <p>He wrote, “The closest thing to a movement that emerged this decade was a new kind of digital art — one that was termed ‘post-internet’ by some for the way it moved the slick aesthetics of the web into the world at large. Mass Effect has become the go-to critical companion to this style and work made by the artists whose pioneering pieces inspired it.”</p> <p>“Growth,” by Vaclav Smil, was recommended by Bill Gates on <em>Gates Notes
.</em></p> <p>“When I first heard that one of my favorite authors was working on a new book about growth, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it,” said Gates. “(Two years ago, I wrote that I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. I stand by that statement.) His latest doesn’t disappoint. As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.”</p> <p>“Fables and Futures,” by George Estreich, was featured on <em>NPR Science Friday</em> as among “The Best Science Books of 2019.”</p> <p>“As new prenatal screening tools enter the market and we begin to seriously grapple with the idea of human genome editing, we would do well to think deeply about the consequences of such technologies on the rights and welfare of individuals we consider disabled,” wrote Valerie Thompson, editor for <em>Science Friday.</em> “I recommend 'Fables and Futures' to anyone who wants to seriously engage in the human genome editing debate at the society and species levels.”</p> <p>“Find Your Path: Unconventional Lessons from 36 Leading Scientists and Engineers,” by Daniel Goodman, was featured as a “Selected New Book on Higher Education” by <em>The Chronicle of Higher Education.</em></p> Six MIT Press authors were awarded “best of” recognition in 2019.Image courtesy of The MIT Press.Awards, honors and fellowships, Books and authors, MIT Press, Science communication, Arts, Economics, Politics, History, Science writing 3 Questions: Shola Lawal on human rights and social justice http://news.mit.edu/2019/3qs-shola-lawal-human-rights-social-justice-1217 The Nigerian journalist is the recipient of a prestigious fellowship that provides residencies at MIT, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 14:55:01 -0500 Michelle English | Center for International Studies http://news.mit.edu/2019/3qs-shola-lawal-human-rights-social-justice-1217 <p><em>It’s been a banner year for Nigerian journalist Shola Lawal. The young reporter, who focuses on human rights and social justice issues, was selected as the 2019&nbsp;<a href="https://www.iwmf.org/2019/06/2019-neuffer-fellow-shola-lawal/">International Women’s Media Foundation’s Elizabeth Neuffer Fellow</a>. The fellowship brought her to MIT this fall as a research associate at the Center for International Studies and provides further journalistic training at </em>The&nbsp;Boston Globe<em>&nbsp;and </em>The&nbsp;New York Times. <em>Last month, she got news from back home that she received&nbsp;<a href="https://awards.thefutureafrica.com/burna-boy-israel-adesanya-timini-egbuson-simi-drey-adejumo-tolani-alli-others-emerge-winners-at-the-future-awards-africa-2019/">The Future Awards Africa Prize for Journalism</a>&nbsp;for making significant contributions toward that continent’s future. Finally, she is set to release her first long-form documentary. The film, “<a href="http://calendar.mit.edu/event/StarrForum_WherePowersLive#.Xe-puy2ZMQ8">Where Powers Live</a>,” chronicles the lives of marginalized indigenous religious worshippers in Nigeria and will be screened on campus next month.</em></p> <p><em>Lawal began her career as a freelance correspondent upon graduating from the University of Lagos. She has covered such topics as women’s rights movements in Nigeria, migrants in Libya, forest reserves in Ghana, and political upheaval in Togo. During this fellowship, she is focusing on&nbsp;issues of injustice&nbsp;that sit at the intersection of certain U.S. policies.</em></p> <p><em>She sat down to discuss what it is like to work as a journalist in Nigeria, her reportage last spring on Boko Haram, and her recent trip to Mexico to investigate the migrant crisis.</em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The Nigerian government is notorious for putting limits on press freedom, including detaining journalists and activists. How does this impact your work?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Compared to dictatorships on the continent, Nigeria has been fairly navigable for me as a journalist. There have always been stumbling blocks with institutional corruption, secrecy, and insecurity, but journalists have been able to pull through. This is not to say journalists are not killed or targeted. We’ve always been. However, it has been a particularly hard time for us under President Muhammadu Buhari. He was a former military dictator who got recently re-elected. Fears that dictatorial tendencies would emerge even as a democratically elected official are being realized now. This year alone, there have been raids on newsrooms by the military and persistent persecution of journalists. Critics of the government have disappeared without a trace and, as we speak, a media entrepreneur is in detention indefinitely for protesting against the government.</p> <p>Worse, parliament is pushing a social media bill that will criminalize insulting government officials with a jail term. The presidency seemed ready to sign off on it, with First Lady Aisha Buhari publicly citing China as an example of a country that "successfully controls" social media. Public outrage forced parliament to drop it temporarily, but it is still disheartening to know that this is being seriously discussed in the first place. Policies like these negatively impact on journalists and citizens in an age where digital and social media have become crucial tools for bearing witness and exposing injustice.</p> <p>There is a grand strategy of fear at play here, and to be frank, it is, for the most part, effective. It’s hard not to self-censor when you know you can be kidnapped or detained and that you’ll only become another statistic. It’s hard not to be scared when you see educated parliamentarians pushing such a regressive policy. I’m scared of what this means for myself and my colleagues, truly. But I’m undaunted. I continue to work even with that stomach-churning fear, and so do my colleagues. That gives me hope.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The founder of Boko Haram, Mohammed Yusuf, died in police detention 10 years ago this past October. His death led to the radicalization of the sect and it becoming a jihadist terrorist organiziation. You reported from the heart of the crisis just last spring. Is there any end in sight?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>The end is not nearly in sight, I’m afraid. While things have been quiet on the international front regarding Boko Haram coverage, the reality on the ground is that the group continues to control pockets of territory in northeast Nigeria. A different faction, backed by ISIS, has emerged and calls itself the Islamic State’s West Africa Province, ISWAP. Although ISIS was defeated in Syria and Iraq, it seems to have settled in Africa. The group supports networks of militia groups now operating in West Africa.&nbsp;</p> <p>Across the region, we’ve seen an uptick in insurgency movements. They have similar strategies of guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings, and they kidnap people for funds. These groups operate in the West African Sahel region, a zone that is vulnerable to climatic changes, causing even more pressure on communities there. Several countries, including Nigeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali, have been especially affected.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Nigeria, Boko Haram’s influence has shrunk, but we will reckon with the consequences of the group’s terror for generations. Millions are displaced, languishing in camps where resources are inadequate. Many are missing. In Borno, where the insurgency started, I spoke to mothers who have not seen their sons in 10 years. The military has rounded up hundreds of young men that are suspected of terrorism without trial. Their families don’t know if they are alive or dead. Trust has been destroyed: trust in government, but even trust within communities. For a society that is big on social connections, that says a lot. For example, teenagers rescued from Boko Haram enclaves are finding it difficult to re-integrate in their communities because community members see them as insurgents, too. I know we will heal as a nation, but it will take a long time.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>You recently wrote an&nbsp;<a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2019/10/22/trump-asylum-policy-death-sentence-for-africans-fleeing-violence/3z0tM2LjFZqvWmHsIW3TxN/story.html">opinion piece</a>&nbsp;for <em>The Boston Globe</em> on the Trump administration’s asylum ban. You described it as targeting Central American migration and that it will have a devastating impact on people who are fleeing conflict in African countries. You recently returned from a reporting trip to Mexico’s southern border. What did you learn?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>It’s very easy to focus on the U.S.-Mexico border with the administration’s emphasis on ‘the wall’, but a lot is happening on Mexico’s southern border. I was surprised to see not just Africans, but also Asians and migrants from the Caribbean in their thousands. They are all trapped by U.S. restrictions in Tapachula, a border city with Guatemala. Mexico is cracking down on transiting migrants, containing them in its poorest region to avoid trade sanctions from the U.S. There’s no aid provided to these people, so many are living in tents. Locals are nervous about the burden of housing all these people on already-inadequate infrastructure. I think it’s only a matter of time before they lash out.</p> <p>For context, thousands of Africans have traveled from countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both countries in conflict. They fly to South America and walk or bus north to get to the U.S.-Mexico border. People from Haiti have done the same. It’s a difficult journey. They must pass through the Darien Gap, a jungle between Columbia and Panama where wild animals, flash floods, and armed men have taken souls that we cannot account for.</p> <p>Now, they are caught between a wall and a hard place. Living conditions in shelters are miserly. People are sleeping in tents on the streets and surviving on donations. Women are presenting with reproductive diseases and children with skin infections. I saw a woman cradle a 5-day-old baby who had not received proper medical attention. She looked so desolate, so helpless. It’s an emergency, to put it plainly. And we must all work, in any capacity we can, to call attention to it so that these policies are reversed and these people can be free.</p> “There is a grand strategy of fear at play here, and to be frank, it is, for the most part, effective,” says Nigerian journalist Shola Lawal. “It’s hard not to self-censor when you know you can be kidnapped or detained and that you’ll only become another statistic.” Photo: Laura Kerwin/Center for International StudiesCenter for International Studies, Social justice, Africa, Mexico, Political science, 3 Questions, History, Government, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Journalism, Latin America A closer look at the diabetes disaster http://news.mit.edu/2019/traveling-sugar-moran-thomas-1217 In a new book, Amy Moran-Thomas examines how diabetes is reaching epidemic levels in countries across the world. Tue, 17 Dec 2019 00:00:01 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/traveling-sugar-moran-thomas-1217 <p>In Belize, where diabetes is rampant, patients need insulin every day to maintain proper blood sugar levels. But if people lack electricity or a refrigerator, they cannot store insulin at home. Medical advice pamphlets encourage such patients to keep their insulin in the refrigerators at small corner grocery stores instead. And so, in some cases, there the insulin sits — right next to soft drinks which, in good measure, have helped cause the growing diabetes epidemic in the first place.</p> <p>“That one image, of soda bottles and the insulin side by side, has stuck with me,” says Amy Moran-Thomas, an MIT professor and cultural anthropologist who has spent over 10 years researching and writing about the global diabetes epidemic. “It’s emblematic of the larger problem, a robust infrastructure even in rural areas to deliver foods that are contributing to diabetes, and the huge gaps in global infrastructure for treating the same conditions.”</p> <p>The International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 425 million people currently have diabetes, and that number is expected to increase to more than 600 million within a generation. (By the foundation’s count, annual diabetes deaths now outnumber those from HIV/AIDS and breast cancer, combined.) U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called chronic illnesses such as diabetes a “public health emergency in slow motion.”</p> <p>Now Moran-Thomas has chronicled that emergency in a new book, “Traveling with Sugar: Chronicles of a Global Epidemic,” published this month by the University of California Press. In it, Moran-Thomas examines the havoc diabetes has caused in Belize, a Central American country with resource limitations — annual per capita income is under $5,000 — and one that is heavily reliant on cheap, high-glucose foods made with white rice, white flour, and white sugar.</p> <p>“Before I started getting to know people, I had this idea that infectious diseases were the primary health crisis in a lot of Central America,” says Moran-Thomas, who as a graduate student initially considered studying the problems of parasitic infections. Instead, she discovered, “Everyone was talking about diabetes.”</p> <p>Looking at the scope of the problem as well as its causes, Moran-Thomas says she came to regard the situation in Belize as a case study in how lives are rearranged by the spread of diabetes globally: “I felt this was part of something bigger that was happening in the world.”</p> <p><strong>Vanishing from the photo album</strong></p> <p>Diabetes is a disease with many possible consequences. Patients often feel excessively thirsty or hungry, although those are just early symptoms; complications and effects over time can lead to heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of limbs, among other things. Diabetes is so strongly associated with managing blood sugar levels that the word “sugar” has become a virtual synonym for the illness in many places; in Belize “traveling with sugar” is a common expression for living with diabetes.</p> <p>Moran-Thomas conducted her ethnographic research in collaboration with people in Belize, getting to know many families and community caregivers. &nbsp;She also conducted years of archival research about the social context, reconstructing the history of colonialism and commerce that has left Belize largely impoverished and dependent on outside sources for food and income.</p> <p>Grappling with matters that resonate across the Caribbean, Latin America, and beyond, “Traveling with Sugar” closely examines how sugar-heavy diets became so common. This includes issues such as the legacy of plantation landscapes on contemporary agriculture, and the ways diabetes risks are compounded by toxic pollution, climate change, stressful social environments, and interruptions of therapy.</p> <p>The human consequences are stark. Among the stories Moran-Thomas chronicles in the book, one involves an older man lovingly paging through a family photo album showing how his late wife, a teacher, had endured multiple amputations — first a foot, then both legs below the knees — which became woven into the family’s larger story of caring for each other. In the family photo album, Moran-Thomas writes, “we watched her disappear a piece at a time from the pictures, until she was absent altogether.”&nbsp;</p> <p>As people’s bodies have changed, Moran-Thomas observes, the local landscape has too. The first place where she conducted an interview in Belize is now under water, due to coastal erosion and sea-level rise. Such cases will become more common in Belize and around the world, Moran-Thomas thinks, if the global economy promoting the growth of “carbohydrates and hydrocarbons” continues unaltered.</p> <p>“There is so much profit being made from the products that contribute to the condition, and there is also money to be made for treating its harmful effects,” she notes. “So it’s difficult to think about interrupting this engine, when money’s being made on both sides, of causing and treating a problem.”</p> <p>Belize’s status as a resort area also leads to some incongruous scenes in the book. Oxygen-rich hyperbaric chambers can help prevent diabetic amputations, and do exist in Belize — but primarily for tourists, such as divers with the bends. Many Belizean citizens have barely heard of such devices, let alone used them for diabetes care.</p> <p>“There is a segregation of infrastructures,” Moran-Thomas says. “The hyperbaric chambers exemplify that — Caribbean residents dying from amputations without being able to access the chambers in their own countries.”</p> <p><strong>Grassroots initiatives and equitable design </strong></p> <p>The research behind “Traveling with Sugar” has already been the basis of interdisciplinary work at MIT, where Moran-Thomas has collaborated with Jose Gomez-Marquez and other members of the Little Devices Lab to create a new MIT course, 21A.311 (Social Lives of Medical Objects). One focal point of the class involves bringing together readings with lab exercises to examine what the sociologist Ruha Benjamin has called “discriminatory design” — the outcome of which is that objects and devices can be impossible for many people to use effectively.</p> <p>“Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional in order to produce a pattern of exclusion that really impacts people,” Moran-Thomas says.</p> <p>For instance, she adds, “Glucose meters can’t really be repaired by the people who need them most to thrive. This makes life so much harder for people who need those meters to safely manage drugs like insulin. I think that’s an additional entry point for thinking about the delivery of health care — the assumptions built into objects has a huge impact on delivery working. At places like MIT, co-created design ideas can be put into practice. [The students] did some amazing final projects for that class, trying to reimagine what equitable objects could look like.”</p> <p>Beyond medical technologies, and alongside large-scale national or international action, Moran-Thomas suggests, the ongoing work many communities are doing to reverse the diabetes epidemic from the ground up deserves more recognition and resources.</p> <p>“The grassroots level is where I saw the most committed work for real change,” says Moran-Thomas, citing projects like a diabetic foot care group working to prevent amputations and a local farming cooperative building a healthy-cereal program.</p> <p>“I don’t know how to reorganize a global trade system — though more policies trying to address those things are absolutely crucial,” she adds. “But there are so many tiny, vital steps that people are already working on at the level of their own neighborhoods and communities. I focused on those stories in the book to show how a future approach to diabetes response can build from that grassroots scale.”</p> Jose Gomez-Marquez holding an open glucometer prototype at MIT Little Devices Lab Image courtesy of Amy Moran-ThomasSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Anthropology, Latin America, Health, Medicine, Health science and technology, Books and authors, Research, Developing countries Bringing figures in anticolonial politics out of the shadows http://news.mit.edu/2019/sana-aiyar-history-politics-1210 MIT historian Sana Aiyar sheds new light on the complexities of independence movements and global migration. Tue, 10 Dec 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/sana-aiyar-history-politics-1210 <p>Independence movements are complicated. Consider Burma (now Myanmar), which was governed as a province of British India until 1937, when it was separated from India. Burma then attained self-rule in 1948. Amid some straightforward demands for autonomy from India, one Burmese nationalist, a Buddhist monk named U Ottama, had a different vision: He wanted his country to break free of Britain but remain part of India, until Burma could become independent.</p> <p>Why would a Burmese Buddhist want independence from one country, only to seek a union with a much bigger — and majority Hindu — neighbor to achieve this?</p> <p>“At the heart of Ottama’s politics lay a spiritual and civilizational geography that framed his argument for Burma’s unity with India,” says MIT historian Sana Aiyar, who is working on a book about Burma and India at the time of the independence movement. “As Burmese nationalists increasingly defined their nationhood in religious terms to demand the separation of Burma from India, U Ottama insisted that since India was the birthplace of Buddhism, Burma was inextricably linked with India.”</p> <p>That this vision found an audience hints at the extensive connections between Burma and India. From 1830 through 1930, an estimated 13 million Indians passed through Burma — the majority of whom were migrant or seasonal laborers — making the city of Rangoon a cosmopolitan capital. Many stayed and married Burmese women — which helped spark an anti-immigrant, anti-Indian backlash that became one driver of Burma’s independence movement.</p> <p>The complexity of the political fault lines of Burmese self-rule makes the topic a natural for Aiyar. A historian of the Indian diaspora, she generally examines how migration, nationalism, and religion have fed into 20th-century anticolonial politics.</p> <p>Aiyar’s work has another distinctive motif. She specializes in illuminating figures like U Ottama, who were once influential but are little-known now.</p> <p>“The core interest that I have is in political history,” says Aiyar, who was awarded tenure earlier this year. “But I’m interested less in the big event, the obvious narrative, and the big leaders. What has always fascinated me are the alternatives, the possibilities that did not get a chance to see complete fruition — the person who didn’t become ‘Gandhi,’ didn’t quite get the same following, but seems to have really mattered in the moment.”</p> <p>In Aiyar’s 2015 book “Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora,” for instance, a key figure is Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, a trader who, in another complex scenario, became a leader for Indian rights in British-occupied Kenya, even as many Indians never became fully aligned with the British or other Kenyans. But even people strolling through Jeevanjee Gardens, a park in central Nairobi, are unlikely to know much about its namesake.&nbsp;</p> <p>“In all of my research, I’ve been following those kinds of elusive figures whose long, shadowy presence emerges in fragments in colonial and national archives,” Aiyar says. “They allow me to ask questions about the dilemmas and dynamics of the moment.”</p> <p><strong>Old and new in Delhi</strong></p> <p>Aiyar grew up in Delhi, in an intellectually minded family; her mother was a journalist, and her father a diplomat and politician.</p> <p>“Even around the dining table, history and politics were always there. It was just part of growing up,” Aiyar says.</p> <p>History and politics were always there in Delhi, too.</p> <p>“Growing up in a city like Delhi … you’re surrounded by history,” Aiyar notes. “It’s almost impossible to look out of the window when you’re driving anywhere in Delhi without seeing historical sites and the outcomes of historical processes in people’s everyday lives.”</p> <p>Aiyar received a BA in history at St. Stephen’s College of Delhi University and then a BA and MA in history at Jesus College in Cambridge, U.K. Aiyar’s stay in England was also the first time she had observed Indians abroad, which made a significant impression on her: “I noticed the way the diaspora made itself visible in Britain, especially in a multicultural state, was not by presenting itself as secular, but through religion,” she says.</p> <p>At that time, politics within India had also taken a turn away from the secularism of the post-independence era, opening up, Aiyar says, “the question of what defined Indian nationhood, who is Indian.”</p> <p>Aiyar attended Harvard University for her PhD in history, originally planning a dissertation about the rise of Hindu nationalism among the Indian diaspora in Britain. She started her research examining the first group in Britain to assert their right to belonging through religion — Indians who had arrived in the U.K. from East Africa in the 1960s. Aiyar became fascinated by the migration of Indians to Kenya in the 19th and 20th centuries, a little-known history at the time, and the relationship they had to both sides of anticolonial politics. Visiting Kenyan archives made clear there was abundant material on hand involving Jeevanjee and many other figures.</p> <p>“Methodologically it always comes back to the archives, where I find a person or an event that calls into question what we think we know about the past,” Aiyar says. “I wonder what is this person doing there, and then I start digging up all the files I can find. I am really an archive rat and the thing about dealing with South Asian history in the colonial period is, there’s just files and files and files of documents — the Brits really liked their paperwork! If one likes the joy of discovery in the archives, there’s so much to piece together.”</p> <p>After completing her dissertation, Aiyar took a postdoc position at Johns Hopkins University, then served on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin at Madison for three years. She joined MIT in 2013.</p> <p><strong>Partition project</strong></p> <p>At MIT, Aiyar appreciates her students — “They are curious, they are open-minded, and a lot of fun to teach” — and enjoys being part of a history faculty with global scope.</p> <p>“One of the things I absolutely love about being here is how international our world history section is,” she says. “For a small department, we really pack a punch. We have every region of the world represented with top-rate scholars.”</p> <p>While teaching, Aiyar is pursuing two long-term research efforts. One project is about the encounters between African soldiers and civilians during World War II, &nbsp;in Burma and India. The other, about Burmese independence and titled “India’s First Partition: Recovering Burma’s South Asian History,” is her second book project.</p> <p>The title is an indirect reference to the division of Pakistan from India in 1947, which almost exclusively holds claim to the world “partition” in South Asian history. But Aiyar’s contention is that this term applies to the separation of Burma from India in 1937. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is a partition,” Aiyar says. “It’s the very first time a carceral border is created in South Asia, and immigration laws are introduced that literally prevent the millions who moved in and out of Burma from crossing over without paperwork. The border creates a surveillance state. All of this takes place a full decade before Pakistan is created. … I am arguing that 1937 was the first partition of India.”</p> <p>In writing the book, Aiyar is also digging into literature, diaries, and other documents to reconstruct daily life in Burma and show the many interconnections among people of Burmese and Indian heritage.</p> <p>“The history of the mundane, the everyday, I think will really complement the political history of conflict and tension,” Aiyar says. “I’ve always been interested in how people live together with difference.”</p> <p>Or not live together, as the case may be. In South Asia or elsewhere, then and now, as Aiyar recognizes, separatist identity politics can also be a powerful animating force for individuals and political factions.</p> <p>“We can look to history to understand what these questions are about and why people are that invested,” Aiyar says. “I’ve always found history is a really useful way to understand what is going on in the contemporary world.”</p> Sana AiyarImage: M. Scott BrauerSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, History, India, Faculty, Profile, Books and authors Journalists and academics explore the communication of science http://news.mit.edu/2019/spreading-facts-communication-science-1206 Daylong symposium at MIT showcases innovative ways of sharing facts and building trust in research results. Fri, 06 Dec 2019 16:48:41 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/spreading-facts-communication-science-1206 <p>The amount of trust people place in different professions has ebbed and flowed over the years, though in recent years faith in most categories has plummeted, with Congress and the press among the least-trusted groups, surveys have shown. Trust in scientists, by contrast, has remained remarkably steady, at a level that’s comparatively high but still only around 40 percent.</p> <p>The ways that information about science gets out to the public have changed significantly in recent years, with newsrooms downsizing nationwide, sources of misinformation proliferating, and skepticism growing about what is reported, including about science. To explore ways of building trust in science and communicating accurate information, a daylong symposium at MIT convened journalists working at newspapers, magazines, podcasts and videos; academics who study science communications; and scientists who focus on communicating with the public.</p> <p>The symposium, titled “Spreading facts: communicating science for a better world,” was co-sponsored by <em>MIT Technology Review</em>, MIT Press, and the Knowledge Futures Group. The Dec. 3 event drew 175 participants at MIT’s Samberg Conference Center despite a snowstorm that had delayed the institute’s opening that day.</p> <p>In a keynote address, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, mentioned that last year the Oxford English Dictionary picked “post-truth” as its word of the year, referring to a time when “feelings and intuition are valued above scientific analysis.”</p> <p>In part, that reflects an idea that “science may be motivated by concerns that are not those of the public,” she said. “Many members of the public don’t understand the self-correcting nature of science” and don’t adequately distinguish between the results of a single study and a clear scientific consensus built up over time, McNutt said.</p> <p>She used the analogy of a giant game of Jenga, where a tall tower is built from blocks that are then removed one at a time until the tower topples. Similarly, she said, scientific consensus is built up from many pieces over time, but it’s always subject to review if one of those lower pieces is removed. If a few key studies are withdrawn or found to have been significantly flawed, the tower may crumble, an event known in science as a paradigm shift, when theories undergo fundamental changes.</p> <p>She said that in communicating science, while scientists are trained to present everything in a neutral and impersonal way, “for the public, the scientists and their stories are important. They want to know that there are real people involved.”</p> <p>McNutt offered some suggestions on how the public’s trust in science could be improved. First, there should be improvements in the peer review system, including dealing with issues such as predatory journals that don’t carry out the reviews they claim, and peer review rings where people agree to provide each other positive reviews. People should also be recognized for the work they do in carrying out peer reviews.</p> <p>“We need to clearly signal which papers have earned trust,” she said, proposing a system of badges for papers that have passed certain specific criteria for validation.</p> <p>When dealing with people who are skeptical of science or of some particular aspect of it, McNutt said it’s important to be clear about terminology. For example, if asked whether she believes in climate change, she answers: “There is an evidentiary basis for climate change.”</p> <p>“To say you believe puts it in the same realm as religion. You need to distinguish between what has predictive power and what doesn’t,” she said.</p> <p>In a panel discussion, Mariette DiChristina, dean of the Boston University College of Communication and former editor of <em>Scientific American</em>, noted that “the industry has fairly imploded in the past 10 years,” with an estimated one in four journalism jobs being eliminated. Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, agreed that “these are hard times for science journalists.” A few years ago, he said, the number of active journalists in comparison to other communications professionals, such as public relations specialists, was 1 to 3. It’s now 1 to 5 or more.</p> <p>Because of the many new channels of communication available, someone coming right out of journalism school “can build a large audience very quickly, if they have something to say,” Seife said.</p> <p>A good example of that is recent MIT graduate Dianna Cowern, who has built a large following on YouTube as “Physics Girl,” and who appeared on a separate panel at Tuesday’s event. With more than a million followers, Cowern’s channel has been funded by the PBS network for the last four years, and some of her videos have gone viral. “Going viral is not an easy thing for science videos,” she said, since they have to compete with millions of cute cat videos. One of her most successful videos depicts an experiment to see how high the top ball in a pile of three dropped balls would bounce.</p> <p>The main thing to strive for to get wide viewership online, she said, is “shareability.” She quipped: “As Einstein said, nothing is worth doing unless you can share it on Facebook.” Novelty, curiosity, and excitement also play a strong part in her short, slightly zany videos.</p> <p>John Randell, director of science, engineering and technology programs at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, described research on the public’s trust of leaders in various professions since 1973. The military has tended toward the top tiers of trust, although attitudes toward it have seesawed up and down dramatically over the years. By contrast, trust in scientists has remained very steady at around 40 percent over that whole period, though it has shown a recent small uptick. Trust in the press and in Congress, meanwhile, are now under 10 percent.</p> <p>But in the same surveys, about 70 percent of respondents say that the benefits of scientific research outweigh its harmful effects, Randell said. And younger Americans have greater trust in science than those in older age groups. There is no type or category of people who can be described as “antiscience,” he said; rather, people have a range of opinions on particular issues.</p> <p>Several participants described novel approaches to communicating ideas about scientific subjects. In addition to Cowern, there was Grant Sanderson, who described a series of mathematics-based podcasts he produces, and Clifford Johnson, a professor of physics, who described his work developing graphical ways of depicting scientific concepts, which he has created in the form of comic books (or “graphical sequences”). His comics are based on dialogues about ideas, he said, which is “one of the oldest forms of communication.” Galileo’s findings, he pointed out, were written in this form.</p> <p>Another innovative approach to science communications was described by Beth Daley, editor and general manager of The Conversation US. She explained how that organization provides a way for scientists to communicate their work to the public, by helping them to write articles in a journalistic style, aimed at the general public, which are then distributed for use by newspapers around the country.</p> <p>This new approach has been quite effective, she said. A staff of about 30 people edits, fact-checks, and works with the scientists, helping them to write a popular piece “in their own voice.” To achieve that, she said, “they often need a lot of help in translating” their work into accessible language. The organization currently publishes about 10 news stories a day.</p> <p>In closing remarks, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media, pointed out that despite an increasingly polarized society in which people are disagreeing even on the nature of facts, polls showing a relatively steady level of trust in science are encouraging. “I’m optimistic for the next generation,” he said.</p> A panel discussion featured Mariette DiChristina, dean of Boston University's College of Communication (center), and Charles Seife, professor of journalism at New York University, (right), and was moderated by Gideon Lichfield, editor-in-chief of MIT Technology Review (left).Image: David ChandlerSpecial events and guest speakers, MIT Press, Science writing, Technology and society, Media Lab Economics for hard times http://news.mit.edu/2019/good-economics-hard-times-1112 In new book, Nobel laureates Banerjee and Duflo examine what we know about the global economy and how to improve it. Mon, 11 Nov 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/good-economics-hard-times-1112 <p>Economists, on the whole, favor open immigration and free trade policies, which they regard as catalysts for economic growth. But as polling shows, many people in the U.S. and Europe disagree. They are wary of losing jobs and earning power where there is immigration, and they believe free trade pushes industry abroad. So who’s right, the economists, or the people?</p> <p>Well, according to MIT’s newest Nobel Prize laureates, economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, each side gets one count right and one wrong.&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you look at the best evidence, it tells us that economists’ view of migration is more correct,” Duflo says. “It is not a big problem to let more migrants in.” Study after study shows that increased immigration does not affect wages, for instance. And the presence of migrants tends to let more women who are longtime residents enter the work force.</p> <p>Okay, what about trade?</p> <p>“On trade it is the opposite,” Duflo says. “The evidence shows that people’s instinctive view of trade, that it does hurt them, has a lot that is true about it, and economists’ instinctive view on trade, that it should be good for everyone, is not correct.”</p> <p>Although free trade boosts overall growth, it also produces concentrated pockets of job losses. And while economic theory has long held that displaced workers will move to new job opportunities, this rarely happens. In countries that started trading with China during the last two decades, for example, the working-age population has not decreased in the areas most hard-hit by imports from China.</p> <p>What the mistaken ideas about both immigration and trade ignore, Banerjee says, is the “stickiness” of real life. Most people do not want to uproot themselves.</p> <p>“One thing that ties those two issues together is the idea of stickiness,” Banerjee says. “Ordinary people like to stay in place. [Economists] think trade should be fine because, yes, it could hurt some people, but people are going to move to other jobs in other places. But people are very reluctant to do that. They don’t want to go to a different sector and a different place and a different life.”</p> <p>Until recently, these were not the kinds of issues Banerjee and Duflo often discussed. But now, in their second book, “Good Economics for Hard Times,” published today by Public Affairs Press, the MIT duo examines large-scale, politically fraught issues with economic implications, including immigration, trade, social identity, inequality, automation, and more.</p> <p>In each case, the book examines what empirical research tell us about the world — as well as the limits of our knowledge. Only on that basis, Banerjee and Duflo suggest, can we think effectively about economic policy.</p> <p>Or, as the authors write in the new book, “The world is a sufficiently complicated and uncertain place that the most valuable thing economists have to share is often not their conclusion, but the path they took to reach it — the facts they knew, the way they interpreted those facts, the deductive steps they took, the remaining sources of their uncertainty.”</p> <p><strong>Scaling up</strong></p> <p>The new work by Banerjee and Duflo follows “Poor Economics,” (PublicAffairs, 2011), their first book, which focused on helping the world’s 1 billion poorest people, who exist on the equivalent of $1 per day.</p> <p>“Poor Economics” stemmed from research Banerjee and Duflo have created and facilitated as co-founders (with Sendhil Mullainathan) of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a leading antipoverty research network. These smaller-scale, empirical projects are what won Duflo and Banerjee the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences last month, which they shared with Michael Kremer of Harvard University.</p> <p>By contrast, “Good Economics for Hard Times” examines issues of global scale, while maintaining the authors’ taste for empiricism. Trade is a hotly debated issue, but how much does it contribute to growth? As the authors note, it produces a notably modest benefit in the U.S., where it equals about 2.5 percent of GDP, no more than what a good year of growth is worth.</p> <p>Similarly, while immigration stereotypes abound — think of the “Polish plumber” who supposedly takes away fix-it jobs from the British or French — people do not migrate as often as the popular perception suggests. About 3 percent of Greeks have left the country this decade, despite unemployment rates reaching as high as 27 percent and the presence of open borders in the European Union.</p> <p>“The Polish plumber is an iconic figure in France but lives mostly in Poland,” Duflo says.</p> <p>To be sure, large sections of “Good Economics for Hard Times” focus on other issues. In one chapter, Banerjee and Duflo contend that people’s sense of ethnic or partisan identity is more flexible than is often assumed. If so, that would be good news for some policy advocates. In many countries, ethnic or political divisions can create a barrier to public spending if people are unwilling to be taxed for the sake of other social groups. But Banerjee and Duflo suggest that a significant part of this is a public-perception problem.&nbsp;</p> <p>“At the core of this is a lie,” Banerjee says. “And I think we have to start by saying that. It’s just not true that all federal and state spending goes to ‘other’ people. There’s a lot of polarization that was created by such lies, and while we won’t fix these prejudices in a day, I do think it’s worth pushing back.”</p> <p>As Duflo points out, it is also tough to establish cause and effect when examining why some governments tax and spend more than others.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s true the U.S. is a diverse society and Denmark is not diverse, and Denmark has much higher taxes than the U.S.,” she says. “But I’m not sure whether that comes from the fact that Denmark is [more socially homogenous] or from the fact that the government as an enterprise is [seen as] a more legitimate enterprise generally.”</p> <p><strong>“We have much more to learn”</strong></p> <p>While the intent of “Good Economics for Hard Times” may be to get people to think sharply about pressing problems, Banerjee and Duflo also discuss the kinds of policy interventions they think are promising. Some of these aid people in “transitions” during life, especially job loss. These transitions have significant social impact; research shows that people who lose jobs after age 50 have lower life expectancy than those who keep working. In a rapidly-changing economy, we need to worry about the many people who will have a hard time in the labor market.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The idea that people are going to find the opportunity, left to themselves, is implausible,” Banerjee says. “”[Our] view is we need to act on this collectively: You aren’t a failure because you lost your job. This is a transition. It’s society’s problem rather than only yours.”</p> <p>While there are a variety of policy measures to do this — such as improved Trade Adjustment Assistance for people displaced by trade-induced job losses — Banerjee and Duflo also favor what they call the “somewhat radical idea” of subsidizing entire firms and older workers affected by trade, keeping them in business and at work, respectively. A robust effort to do this, they write, would help “prevent communities from falling apart” when firms struggle.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>And, as Duflo says, “People don’t want just money. They want dignity. Giving them that is not betraying some deep philosophical principle.”</p> <p>For this reason, the authors are more skeptical of universal basic income proposals; as they note, U.S.-based surveys shows that about 80 percent of workers have a strong sense of satisfaction, usefulness, or personal accomplishment tied to their jobs and careers.&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps more conventionally, Banerjee and Duflo also strongly favor greater support for “labor-intensive public services” such as public education and care for the elderly. Crucially, these kinds of jobs are unlikely to be either replaced by technology, or outsourced to another country, since they are firmly situated in particular places.</p> <p>As “Good Economics for Hard Times” also points out, a wealth of research strongly suggests the high social value of, say, early childhood education; such investments would clearly pay for themselves, on a society-wide basis.</p> <p>In all cases, Banerjee and Duflo write, “The goal of social policy, in these times of change and anxiety, is to help people absorb the shocks that affect them without allowing those shocks to affect their sense of themselves.” And, as they note, “we clearly don’t have all the solutions, and suspect that nobody else does either. We have much more to learn. But as long as we understand what the goal is, we can win.”&nbsp;</p> MIT economists Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo and their new book, “Good Economics for Hard Times.”Image: Bryce VickmarkSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economics, Faculty, Books and authors, Social sciences, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), Trade, Development, Policy, Politics Meet the 2019 tenured professors in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/five-faculty-school-humanities-arts-social-sciences-receive-tenure-1022 SHASS faculty members Nikhil Agarwal, Sana Aiyar, Stephanie Frampton, Daniel Hidalgo, and Miriam Schoenfield were recently granted tenure. Tue, 22 Oct 2019 15:30:01 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/five-faculty-school-humanities-arts-social-sciences-receive-tenure-1022 <p>Dean Melissa Nobles and the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) announced that five members of the school's faculty members have received tenure. Their extensive research and writing investigates a wide variety of topics, from&nbsp;the history of western thought to electoral behavior in low-income areas. They are:</p> <p><a href="http://economics.mit.edu/faculty/agarwaln" target="_blank">Nikhil Agarwal</a>,<strong> </strong>associate professor of economics, joined the MIT faculty in 2014 after earning his PhD at Harvard University and teaching economic policy at Stanford University. He has received grants from the National Institute of Health and a Sloan Research Fellowship. He teaches Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy (Course 14.03), and courses on industrial organization.</p> <p><a href="http://history.mit.edu/people/sana-aiyar" target="_blank">Sana Aiyar</a>, associate professor of history, is a specialist in the history of modern South Africa, She is the author of "Indians in Kenya: The Politics of Diaspora" and her research focuses on colonial and postcolonial politics and society in the Indian Ocean. She formerly taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.</p> <p><a href="http://lit.mit.edu/people/sframpton/" target="_blank">Stephanie Frampton</a>, associate professor of literature, is a classicist, comparatist, historian of media in antiquity, and the author of "Empire of Letters." She joined the MIT faculty in fall 2012 after teaching at Harvard University and the College of the Holy Cross.</p> <p><a href="http://polisci.mit.edu/people/f-daniel-hidalgo" target="_blank">F. Daniel Hidalgo</a>, the Cecil and Ida Green Associate Professor of Political Science, focuses on the political economy of elections, campaigns, and representation in developing democracies, especially in Latin America, as well as quantitative methods in the social sciences.<br /> <br /> <a href="http://web.mit.edu/philosophy/schoenfield.html" target="_blank">Miriam Schoenfield PhD '12</a>, associate professor of philosophy, returned to MIT in 2017 after holding teaching positions at the University of Texas at Austin and at New York University. Her primary research interests are in epistemology with ethics and normativity more broadly.</p> Newly-tenured faculty in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences: (clockwise from top left) Nikhil Agarwal, Sana Aiyar, Miriam Schoenfield, F. Daniel Hidalgo, and Stephanie Frampton.School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty, Economics, History, Literature, Political science, Philosophy, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships 3 Questions: Alan Lightman’s new novel about Cambodia and family http://news.mit.edu/2019/alan-lightman-novel-three-flames-cambodia-1015 MIT writer’s new work, “Three Flames,” explores the fractures and bonds among kin in a rebuilding society. Mon, 14 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/alan-lightman-novel-three-flames-cambodia-1015 <p><em>MIT’s Alan Lightman is a physicist who made a leap to becoming a writer — one with an unusually broad range of interests. In his novels, nonfiction books, and essays, Lightman, a professor of the practice of the humanities at MIT, has explored many topics, from science to society. His new novel, “Three Flames,” recently published by Counterpoint Press, follows the fortunes of a family in post-civil war Cambodia. It’s a topic Lightman knows well: He is the founder the Harpswell Foundation, which works to empower a new generation of female leaders in Cambodia and across Southeast Asia. Lightman recently talked to </em>MIT News<em> about “Three Flames.” </em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What are the origins of ‘Three Flames”?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> I’ve been working in Cambodia for 15 years, and I’ve spent a lot of time there, and I’ve heard a lot of stories of families, particularly [about] the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide in the mid-1970s. Just about anybody you meet in Cambodia today has a relative who was killed or starved or tortured over that period of time. So it’s affected everybody in the entire country. And I have been very interested in how a country can recover its humanity after that kind of devastation, when family members were turned against each other. The Khmer Rouge soldiers rounded up anybody that they had the slightest suspicion about, and encouraged families to turn in anybody that they had any suspicion about. It disrupted families and led to an every-person-for-themselves mentality, which still hasn’t disappeared.</p> <p>In the face of all that destruction and moral degradation, I also heard stories of courage and resilience and forgiveness. After many years, I thought I was beginning to understand the culture enough to begin writing stories about it. But I waited 10 years before I started writing anything. You have to understand a culture much more deeply to write fiction about it than to write nonfiction, because fiction involves small daily mannerisms, which you have to get right. And you don’t pick that up from a couple of trips.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> There are many connected stories in this novel, and many distinctive characters. What is the main theme, and how did you weave that in throughout different parts of the book?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> The overriding story is the struggle that women have in a male-dominated society. And that, of course, is true not only in Cambodia but in many countries, even the U.S. Almost every chapter of the book has that struggle in it. … A number of the [other] themes in the book are universal. I hope the themes of redemption, and forgiveness, and revenge, and women’s struggles will go beyond Cambodia.</p> <p>Five years ago, I wrote the first chapter of the book, about the mother, Ryna. When I wrote that, it was a stand-alone short story [published in the journal <em>Daily Lit</em>, and as an Amazon Kindle single]. In that story, I mention other members of the family. One daughter is married off to a rubber merchant; another one went to Phnom Penh to work to pay off a family debt; the son is kind of a ne’er-do-well; the father is very ignorant, sexist, and condescending. About a year after writing the first story, I began wondering about the other family members. Once you write a character in fiction, they come to life and stay in your head. And so I decided I would write a story about each member of the family. Of course, I had to interweave all the stories, as they involve the same family.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How did you then assemble those elements into a cohesive story? It must have been fairly complicated to place these parts of the story into a larger narrative. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> After I had written the book, I decided to place the stories in the order where they would have the most dramatic impact. For the story about Pich, the father, I wanted to wait until that character had been developed to show how he became the person he is, because none of us are all good or bad. The story about Nita [a daughter of Pich], I wanted to save until the later part of the book because it’s such a shocking story. The story about Srepov has to come last, because she’s the only hope for the future. The date of each story is when the most dramatic action happened to each character, the most influential [moment] in shaping who they are.</p> <p>[In books], there are two times that are important. There’s chronological time, and then the time of readerly experience. Taking the Pich story as an example, in my view as a writer it’s more powerful to first see Pich as he is today, an unsympathetic, dictatorial, cruel father, and to even grow to hate him. Then, only later in the book, we see him in childhood and see the forces that shaped him as he is. To save the childhood portrait for later, that’s a more powerful experience for the reader.</p> Alan Lightman and his new novel, “Three Flames.”Image: Greg Peverill-ContiSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Faculty, Books and authors, Asia, History A look at Japan’s evolving intelligence efforts http://news.mit.edu/2019/special-duty-japan-intelligence-1008 New book examines the past and future of Japanese intelligence services in a rapidly shifting world. Tue, 08 Oct 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/special-duty-japan-intelligence-1008 <p>Once upon a time — from the 1600s through the 1800s — Japan had a spy corps so famous we know their name today: the ninjas, intelligence agents serving the ruling Tokugawa family.</p> <p>Over the last 75 years, however, as international spying and espionage has proliferated, Japan has mostly been on the sidelines of this global game. Defeat in World War II, and demilitarization afterward, meant that Japanese intelligence services were virtually nonexistent for decades.</p> <p>Japan’s interest in spycraft has returned, however. In addition to a notable military expansion — as of last year, the country has aircraft carriers again — Japan is also ramping up its formal intelligence apparatus, as a response to what the country’s chief cabinet secretary has called “the drastically changing security environment” around it.</p> <p>“Intelligence is a critical element of any national security strategy,” says MIT political scientist Richard Samuels, a leading expert on Japanese politics and foreign policy. “It’s just a question of how robust, and openly robust, any country is willing to make it.”</p> <p>Examining the status of Japan’s intelligence efforts, then, helps us understand Japan’s larger strategic outlook and goals. And now Samuels has written a wide-ranging new history of Japan’s intelligence efforts, right up to the present. The book, “Special Duty: A History of the Japanese Intelligence Community,” is being published this week by Cornell University Press.</p> <p>“Japan didn’t have a comprehensive intelligence capability, but they’re heading in that direction,” says Samuels, who is the director of the Center for International Studies and the Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT. As firm as Japan’s taboo on military and intelligence activity once was, he adds, “that constraint is coming undone.”</p> <p><strong>Ruffians and freelance agents</strong></p> <p>Aside from the ninjas, who focused on domestic affairs, Japan’s international intelligence efforts have seen a few distinct phases: a patchy early period, a big buildup before World War II, the dismantling of the system under the postwar U.S. occupation, and — especially during the current decade — a restoration of intelligence capabilities.</p> <p>Famously, Japan was closed off to much of the rest of the world until the late 19th century. It did not formally pursue international intelligence activities until the late 1860s. By the early 1900s, Japanese agents had found some success: They decoded Russian cables in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 and cut off Russian raids during the conflict.</p> <p>But as Samuels details in the book, during this period Japan heavily relied on a colorful array of spies and agents working on an unofficial basis, an arrangement that gave the country “plausible deniability” in case these operatives were caught.</p> <p>“There was an interesting reliance upon scoundrels, ruffians, and freelance agents,” Samuels says.</p> <p>Some of these figures were quite successful. One agent, Uchida Ryohei, founded an espionage group, the Amur River Society (also sometimes called the Black Dragon Society), which opened its own training school, created Japan’s best battlefield maps and conducted all manner of operations meant to limit Russian expansion. In the 1930s, another undercover agent, Doihara Kenji, became so successful at creating pro-Japanese local governments in northern China, that he became known as “<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_of_Arabia_(film)">Lawrence of Manchuria</a>.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, Japan’s official intelligence units had a chronic lack of coordination; they divided along military branches and between military and diplomatic bureaucracies. Still, in the decades before World War II, Japan leveraged some existing strengths in the study of foreign cultures — “The Japanese invented area studies before we did,” says Samuels — and used technological advances to make huge strides in information-gathering.</p> <p>“They had strengths, they had weaknesses, they had official intelligence, they had nonofficial intelligence, but overall that was a period of great growth in their intelligence capability,” Samuels says. “That of course comes to a crashing halt at the end of the war, when the entire military apparatus was taken down. So there was this period immediately after the war where there was no formal intelligence.”</p> <p>Japan’s subsequent postwar political reorientation toward the U.S. created many advantages for the country but was simultaneously a source of frustration to some. The country became an economic powerhouse while lacking the same covert capabilities as other countries. &nbsp;</p> <p>“The Cold War was a period in which many Japanese in the intelligence world resented having to accommodate to American power in the intelligence world, and resented it,” Samuels says. “They had economic intelligence capability. They were very good at doing foreign economic analysis and were all over the world, but they were underperforming on the diplomatic and military fronts.”</p> <p><strong>The Asian pivot</strong></p> <p>In “Special Duty,” Samuels suggests three main reasons why any country reforms its intelligence services: Shifts in the strategic environment, technological innovations, and intelligence failures. The first of these seems principally responsible for the current revival of Japan’s intelligence operations.</p> <p>As Samuels notes, some Japanese officials wanted to change the country’s intelligence structure during the 1980s — to little avail. The end of the Cold War, and the more complicated geopolitcal map that resulted, provided a more compelling rationale for doing so, without producing many tangible results.</p> <p>Instead, more recent events in Asia have had a much bigger impact in Japan: namely, North Korean missile testing and China’s massive surge in economic and military power. In 2005, Samuels notes, Japan’s GDP was still twice that of China. A decade later, China’s economy was two and a half times as large as Japan’s, and its military budget was twice as big. U.S. power relative to China has also declined. Those developments have altered Japanese security priorities.</p> <p>“There’s been a Japanese pivot in Asia,” Samuels notes. “That’s really very important.” Moreover, he adds, from the Japanese perspective, “The question about China is obvious. Is its rise going to be disjunctive, or is it going to be stabilizing?”</p> <p>These regional changes have led Japan to chart a course of greater confidence in foreign policy — reflected in its growing intelligence function. Since 2013 in particular, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office for a second time, Japan has built up its own intelligence function as never before, making operations more unified and better-supported. Japan still coordinates extensively with the U.S. in some areas of intelligence but is also taking intelligence matters into its own hands, in a way not seen for several decades.</p> <p>As Samuels notes, Japan’s increasing foreign-policy independence is also supported by voters.</p> <p>“Japanese public opinion has changed,” Samuels says. “They see the issues now, they talk about it now. Used to be, you couldn’t talk about intelligence in polite company. But people talk about it now, and they’re much more willing to go forward.”</p> <p>“Special Duty” has been praised by other scholars in the field of Japanese security studies and foreign policy. Sheila Smith of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington calls it a “truly wonderful book” that “offers much needed insight to academics and policymakers alike as they seek to understand the changes in Japan's security choices. ”</p> <p>By looking at intelligence issues in this way, Samuels has also traced larger contours in Japanese history: first, an opening up to the world, then the alignment with the U.S. in the postwar world, and now a move toward greater capabilities. On the intelligence front, those capabilities include enhanced analysis and streamlined relations across units, heading toward the full spectrum of functions seen in the other major states.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s been the assumption that the Japanese just don’t do [intelligence activities], except economics,” Samuels reflects. “Well, I hope after people see this book they will understand that’s no longer the case, and hasn’t been for some time.”</p> A new book, by MIT political scientist Richard Samuels, examines the past and future of Japanese intelligence services in a rapidly shifting world.Image of Richard Samuels by Donna CoveneySchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Political science, International Studies, Japan, Politics, Asia, Books and authors, Research MIT Press to develop a sustainable framework for open access monographs http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-press-receives-arcadia-grant-develop-sustainable-framework-open-access-monographs-1007 $850,000 grant from Arcadia will allow exploration of alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. Mon, 07 Oct 2019 16:10:01 -0400 Jessica Pellien | MIT Press http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-press-receives-arcadia-grant-develop-sustainable-framework-open-access-monographs-1007 <p>The MIT Press has received a three-year $850,000 grant from <a href="http://www.arcadiafund.org.uk" target="_blank">Arcadia</a>, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, to perform a broad-based monograph publishing cost analysis and to develop and openly disseminate a durable financial framework and business plan for open-access (OA) monographs. The press, <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/mit-press-open" target="_blank">a leader in OA publishing</a> for almost 25 years, will also undertake a pilot program to implement the resulting framework for scholarly front- and backlist titles.</p> <p>Amy Brand, director of the MIT Press and principal investigator for the grant, sees it as an opportunity to explore alternatives to the traditional market-based business model for professional and scholarly monographs. “Until the mid-1990s, most U.S. university presses could count on sales of 1,300–1,700 units, but today monograph sales are typically in the range of 300–500 units,” says Brand. “Many presses make up this difference with internal subsidies or subventions from institutional or philanthropic sources, but this is not sustainable and often unpredictable. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, this generous award from Arcadia will allow us to develop and test a flexible OA sustainability model that can then be adapted to the needs of our peers.”</p> <p>There is growing consensus within the university press community that publishing academic monographs through a durable OA model may be the best way to advance scholarship and fulfill their mission. The U.S.-based Association of University Presses comprises 148 member presses that collectively publish approximately 15,000 monographs per year. Crafting and promoting a viable OA model for this community — and leading the way, as the MIT Press intends to do — would represent a major breakthrough.</p> <p>Work on the grant is scheduled to start in 2019 and the first grant-funded OA monographs will be available in 2020. At the conclusion of the grant in June 2022, MIT Press will openly share a robust, blended OA model that the university press community can adopt, and adapt, paving the way for the many scholarly monographs published each year by university presses and other mission-based scholarly publishers to be more readily discovered, accessed, and shared.</p> <p>“We know the content we produce is highly valued by scholars and librarians. Broad and comprehensive availability of OA scholarly works published by university presses will increase the impact of research and contribute significantly to the knowledge-sharing mission of the academy,” concludes Brand.</p> MIT Press, Open access, Open source, Digital humanities, Grants, Books and authors, Technology and society A new act for opera http://news.mit.edu/2019/emily-richmond-pollock-opera-zero-hour-1002 Emily Richmond Pollock’s book examines creative attempts to refashion postwar opera after Germany’s “Year Zero.” Tue, 01 Oct 2019 23:59:59 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/emily-richmond-pollock-opera-zero-hour-1002 <p>In November 1953, the Nationaltheater in Mannheim, Germany, staged a new opera, the composer Boris Blacher’s “Abstrakte Oper Nr. 1,” which had debuted just months previously. As it ran, music fans were treated to both a performance and a raging controversy about the work, which one critic called “a monstrosity of musical progress,” and another termed “a stillbirth.”</p> <p>Some of this vitriol stemmed from Blacher’s experimental composition, which had jazz and pop sensibilities, few words in the libretto (but some nonsense syllables), and no traditional storyline. The controversy was heightened by the Mannheim production, which projected images of postwar ruins and other related tropes onto the backdrop.</p> <p>“The staging was very political,” says MIT music scholar Emily Richmond Pollock, author of a new book about postwar German opera. “Putting these very concrete images behind [the stage], that people had just lived through, produced a very uncomfortable feeling.”</p> <p>It wasn’t just critics who were dubious: One audience member wrote to the Mannheim morning newspaper to say that Blacher’s “cacophonous concoction is actually approaching absolute zero and is not even original in doing so.”</p> <p>In short, “Abstrakte Oper Nr. 1” hardly fit its genre’s traditions. Blacher’s work was introduced soon after the supposed “Zero Hour” in German society — the years after World War Two ended in 1945. Germany had instigated the deadliest war in history, and the country was supposed to be building itself entirely anew on political, civic, and cultural fronts. But the reaction to “Abstrakte Oper Nr. 1” shows the limits of that concept; Germans also craved continuity.</p> <p>“There is this mythology of the Zero Hour, that Germans had to start all over again,” says Pollock, an associate professor in MIT’s Music and Theater Arts Section.</p> <p>Pollock’s new book, “<a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/opera-after-the-zero-hour-9780190063733?cc=us&amp;lang=en&amp;">Opera after the Zero Hour</a>,” just published by Oxford University Press, explores these tensions in rich detail. In the work, Pollock closely scrutinizes five postwar German operas while examining the varied reactions they produced. Rather than participating in a total cultural teardown, she concludes, many Germans were attempting to construct a useable past and build a future connected to it. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>“Opera in general is a conservative art form,” Pollock says. “It has often been identified very closely with whomever is in power.” For that reason, she adds, “Opera is a really good place to examine why tradition was a problem [after 1945], and how different artists chose to approach that problem.”</p> <p><strong>The politics of cultural nationalism</strong></p> <p>Rebuilding Germany after 1945 was a monumental task, even beyond creating a new political state. A significant part of Germany lay in rubble; for that matter, most large opera houses had been bombed.</p> <p>Nonetheless, opera soon bloomed again in Germany. There were 170 new operas staged in Germany from 1945 to 1965. Operationally, as Pollock notes in the book, this inevitably meant including former Nazis in the opera business — efforts at “denazification” of society, she thinks, were of limited effectiveness. Substantively, meanwhile, the genre’s sense of tradition set audience expectations that could be difficult to alter.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of investment in opera, but it’s not [usually] going to be avant-garde,” Pollock says, noting there were “hundreds of years of opera tradition pressing down” on composers, as well as “a bourgeois restored German culture that doesn’t want to do anything too radical.” However, she notes, after 1945, “There are a lot of traditions of music-making as part of the culture of being German that feel newly problematic [to socially-aware observers].”</p> <p>Thus a substantial portion of those 170 new operas — besides “Abstrakte Oper Nr. 1” — contained distinctive blends of innovation and tradition. Consider Carl Orff’s “Oedipus der Tyrann,” a 1958 work of musical innovation with a traditional theme. Orff was one of Germany’s best-known composers (he wrote “Carmina Burana” in 1937) and had professional room to experiment. “Oedipus der Tyrann” strips away operatic musical form, with scant melody or symphonic expression, though Pollock’s close reading of the score shows some remaining links to mainstream operatic tradition. But the subject of the opera is classical: Orff uses the German poet Friedrich Holderlin’s 1804 translation of Sophocles’ “Oedipus” as his content. As Pollock notes, in 1958, this could be a problematic theme.</p> <p>“When Germans claim special ownership of Greek culture, they’re saying they’re better than other countries — it’s cultural nationalism,” Pollock observes. “So what does it mean that a German composer is taking Greek tropes and reinterpreting them for a postwar context? Only recently, [there had been] events like the Berlin Olympics, where the Third Reich was specifically mobilizing an identification between Germans and the Greeks.” &nbsp;</p> <p>In this case, Pollock says, “I think Orff was not able to think clearly about the potential political implications of what he was doing. He would have thought of music as largely apolitical. We can now look back more critically and see the continuities there.” Even if Orff’s subject matter was not intentionally political, though, it was certainly not an expression of a cultural “Zero Hour,” either.</p> <p><strong>Opera is the key</strong></p> <p>“Opera after the Zero Hour” continually illustrates how complex music creation can be. In the composer Bernd Alois Zimmerman’s 1960s opera “Die Soldaten,” Pollock notes a variety of influences, chiefly Richard Wagner’s idea of the “totalizing work of art” and the composer Alban Berg’s musical idioms — but without Wagner’s nationalistic impulses.</p> <p>Even as it details the nuances of specific operas, Pollock’s book is also part of a larger dialogue about which types of music are most worth studying. If operas had limited overlap with the most radical forms of musical composition of the time, then opera’s popularity, as well as the intriguing forms of innovation and experiment that did occur within the form, make it a vital area of study, in Pollock’s view.</p> <p>“History is always very selective,” Pollock says. “A canon of postwar music will include a very narrow slice of pieces that did really cool, new stuff, that no one had ever heard before.” But focusing on such self-consciously radical music only yields a limited understanding of the age and its cultural tastes, Pollock adds, because “there is a lot of music written for the opera house that people who loved music, and loved opera, were invested in.”</p> <p>Other music scholars say “Opera after the Zero Hour” is a significant contribution to its field. Brigid Cohen, an associate professor of music at New York University, has stated that the book makes “a powerful case for taking seriously long-neglected operatic works that speak to a vexed cultural history still relevant in the present.”</p> <p>Pollock, for her part, writes in the book that, given all the nuances and tensions and wrinkles in the evolution of the art form, “opera is the key” to understanding the relationship between postwar German composers and the country’s newly fraught cultural tradition, in a fully complicated and historical mode.</p> <p>“If you look at [cultural] conservatism as interesting, you find a lot of interesting things,” Pollock says. “And if you assume things that are less innovative are less interesting, then you’re ignoring a lot of things that people cared about.”</p> Emily Richmond Pollock and her book, “Opera After the Zero Hour.”Image: David Kinder and Emily Richmond PollockSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Music, Arts, Faculty, Books and authors, History The permanent struggle for liberty http://news.mit.edu/2019/narrow-corridor-acemoglu-liberty-0924 Daron Acemoglu’s new book examines the battle between state and society, which occasionally produces liberal-democratic freedom. Tue, 24 Sep 2019 10:43:52 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/narrow-corridor-acemoglu-liberty-0924 <p>Where do democratic states with substantial personal liberty come from? Over the years, many grand theories have emphasized one specific factor or another, including culture, climate, geography, technology, or socioeconomic circumstances such as the development of a robust middle class.</p> <p><a href="http://economics.mit.edu/faculty/acemoglu" target="_blank">Daron Acemoglu</a> has a different view: Political liberty comes from social struggle. We have no universal template for liberty — no conditions that necessarily give rise to it, and no unfolding historical progression that inevitably leads to it. Liberty is not engineered and handed down by elites, and there is no guarantee liberty will remain intact, even when it is enshrined in law.</p> <p>“True democracy and liberty don’t originate from checks and balances or from clever institutional design,” says Acemoglu, an economist and Institute Professor at MIT. “They originate [and are sustained] in the much more messy process of society mobilizing, people defending their own liberties, and actively setting constraints on how rules and behaviors are imposed on them.”</p> <p>Now Acemoglu and his longtime collaborator James A. Robinson, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, have a new book out propounding this thesis. “<a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/555400/the-narrow-corridor-by-daron-acemoglu-and-james-a-robinson/" target="_blank">The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty</a>,” published this week by Penguin Random House, examines how some states emerged as beacons of liberty.</p> <p>The crux of the matter, to Acemoglu and Robinson, is that liberal-democratic states exist in between the alternatives of lawlessness and authoritarianism. The state is needed to protect people from domination at the hands of others in society, but the state can also become an instrument of violence and repression. When social groups contest state power and harness it to help ordinary citizens, liberty expands.</p> <p>“The conflict between state and society, where the state is represented by elite institutions and leaders, creates a narrow corridor in which liberty flourishes,” Acemoglu says. “You need this conflict to be balanced. An imbalance is detrimental to liberty. If society is too weak, that leads to despotism. But on the other side, if society is too strong, that results in weak states that are unable to protect their citizens.”</p> <p><strong>From the “Gilgamesh problem” to the “narrow corridor”</strong></p> <p>Following the English political theorist John Locke, Acemoglu and Robinson define liberty by writing that it “must start with people being free from violence, intimidation, and other demeaning acts. People must be able to make free choices about their lives and have the means to carry them out without the menace of unreasonable punishment or draconian social sanctions.”</p> <p>This has been a nearly eternal concern, the authors note: Gilgamesh, per the ancient epic, was a king who “exceeded all bounds” in society. The need to curb absolute power is something the authors call the “Gilgamesh problem,” one of several coinages in the book. Another is the “cage of norms,” the condition where society, in absence of a state, organizes itself to avoid extensive violence — but only through restrictive social arrangements.</p> <p>States, by becoming the guarantors of liberty, can break the repressive cage of norms. But social groups must curb state power before it too stifles freedom. When state capacity and society develop in tandem, the authors call this the “Red Queen effect,” alluding to a race in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” This “race,” if balanced enough, occurs in the “narrow corridor” where liberty-supporting states can exist.</p> <p>Acemoglu and Robinson examine ancient cases of political reform from Athens to the Zapotec state, and they locate liberty’s largest direct wellspring in the early Middle Ages. Germanic tribes had quasidemocratic assemblies; meanwhile some leftover administrative structures of the Roman empire still existed alongside those of the Christian church. When the Frankish king Clovis created a “fusion of Roman state structure with the norms and political institutions of the Franks” in 511, the authors write, some parts of Europe were “at the entryway to the corridor” toward liberty.</p> <p>To be sure, there was a “gradual, painful historical process” to be played out; it was another 700 years before King John of England signed the Magna Carta in 1215, a watershed for the distribution of lawful power beyond the throne.</p> <p>Still, state structures being grafted onto a mechanism for representing society, through assemblies, meant both state and society could expand their power. As Acemoglu and Robinson put it, this “fortuitous balance” effectively “put Europe into the corridor, setting in motion the Red Queen effect in a relentless process of state‐society competition.” Eventually, European democracies evolved.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>“Liberty is fragile”</strong></p> <p>That Europe took the lead in creating liberty-granting states was not inevitable, Acemoglu and Robinson emphasize. Almost 3,000 years ago, they note, ancient China was organized into city-states, and one influential political advisor of the time wrote that “the people are masters of the deities.” But by the fourth century B.C.E., spurred on by the politician and theorist Shang Yang, Chinese rulers built a much more powerful state, which became the Qin empire. Despite many potential moments of reform, detailed in “The Narrow Corridor,” China’s state has largely remained much more powerful than its social interests.</p> <p>Moreover, Acemoglu suggests, the longer a despotic state exists, “the more self-reinforcing it becomes.” He adds: “The more it takes root, the more it sets up a hierarchy which is hard to change, and the more it weakens society. … That’s why I think dreams of China smoothly converting to a democratic system have been misplaced — [it’s had] 2,500 years of state despotism.”</p> <p>The account of the U.S. in “The Narrow Corridor” also takes a long view, albeit over a much shorter period. The U.S. Constitution and the architecture of government developed in the late 18th century, Acemoglu and Robinson write, was a “Faustian bargain” created by Federalists to limit both absolute power and popular power. This structure, they believe, especially its emphasis on states’ rights, “meant that the federal state remained impaired in some important dimensions. For one, it obviously didn’t protect slaves and later its African American citizens from violence, discrimination, poverty, and dominance.”</p> <p>Acemoglu and Robinson also believe that focusing too much on “the brilliant design of the Constitution” is problematic because it “ignores the critical role that society’s mobilization and the Red Queen [effect] played at every turn. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights … were the result of the tussle between elites and the people.” The expansion of U.S. rights and liberties has emerged intermittently&nbsp; — following the Civil War, the civil rights movement, and the women’s rights movement, among other things. But these liberties can also recede if political counter-movements become effective enough.</p> <p>“That is the sense in which liberty is fragile,” Acemoglu says. “If you thought liberty depended on clever designs, you’d have thought we would find the perfect design that protects liberty all the time. But if you think it depends on this messy process, then it’s a much more contingent and troubled existence.”</p> <p><strong>Facing the “urgent challenges for us today”</strong></p> <p>“The Narrow Corridor” examines many additional cases of state-building in history, from India and Africa to Scandinavia. It also builds on a body of work Acemoglu and Robinson have produced examining the relationships between society, state institutions, and growth. That includes the books “Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” (2006) and “Why Nations Fail” (2012). The two scholars have also co-authored 36 published papers on these topics (some with additional co-authors).&nbsp;</p> <p>Acemoglu has also published widely on labor economics, the impact of technology on work and growth, and macroeconomic dynamics. He was named as one of MIT’s 12 Institute Professors this summer and has been on the faculty of the Department of Economics since 1993.</p> <p>As the authors view it, their account of liberty stands in contrast to many other models. The close of the Cold War helped generate the idea of a geopolitical “end of history,” in which states would converge on a liberal-democratic model. That notion did not closely forecast subsequent developments. Neither did postwar theories of modernization that posited a standardized path to democratic prosperity for the developing world.</p> <p>“There are multiple destinations countries can be headed to,” Acemoglu says. “There is nothing ephemeral about a despotic state or a weak state, and there is no ineluctable process that’s going to take every country smoothly toward some sort of liberty at all.”</p> <p>Moreover, Acemoglu says, “Our argument is not a culturally deterministic one.” He adds: “There are views that are very economistic. … Ours is a view that emphasizes the role of agency by individuals and society, and maintains that different social organizations lead to different outcomes. It’s also not geography-based. I think there are a lot of differences from [other] theories.”</p> <p>Scholars have praised “The Narrow Corridor.” Joel Mokyr, a historian at Northwestern University, has called it “a magisterial book of immense insight and learning,” which “draws a chilling conclusion every thinking person should be aware of: Liberty is as rare as it is fragile, wedged uneasily between tyranny and anarchy.”</p> <p>Today’s politics have also generated abundant discussion about the future of governance and democracy. In this vein, Acemoglu says, “The Narrow Corridor” is an engagement with the past meant to illuminate the present.</p> <p>“We need to think about history,” Acemoglu says. “We are writing this book because we think it’s relevant to the urgent challenges for us today. Creating the right sort of political balance, and mobilizing society while not disempowering laws and institutions, are completely first-order challenges we face today. I hope our perspective will shed some light on those issues.”</p> Daron Acemoglu and his new book, “The Narrow Corridor.”Image: Jared CharneySchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Economic, Politics, Books and authors, Faculty, Research, History, Government Computing and artificial intelligence: Humanistic perspectives from MIT http://news.mit.edu/2019/computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-0924 How the humanities, arts, and social science fields can help shape the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing — and benefit from advanced computing. Tue, 24 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-0924 <p><em>The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing </em><em>(SCC) </em><em>will reorient the Institute to bring the power of computing and artificial intelligence to all fields at MIT, and to allow the future of computing and AI to be shaped by all MIT disciplines.</em></p> <p><em>To support ongoing planning for the new college, Dean Melissa Nobles invited faculty from all 14 of MIT’s humanistic disciplines in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences to respond to two questions:&nbsp;&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>1) What domain knowledge, perspectives, and methods from your field should be integrated into the new MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, and why? </em><br /> <br /> <em>2) What are some of the meaningful opportunities that advanced computing makes possible in your field?&nbsp; </em></p> <p><em>As Nobles says in her foreword to the series, “Together, the following responses to these two questions offer something of a guidebook to the myriad, productive ways that technical, humanistic, and scientific fields can join forces at MIT, and elsewhere, to further human and planetary well-being.” </em></p> <p><em>The following excerpts highlight faculty responses, with links to full commentaries. The excerpts are sequenced by fields in the following order: the humanities, arts, and social sciences. </em></p> <p><strong>Foreword by Melissa Nobles, professor of political science and the Kenan Sahin Dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences </strong></p> <p>“The advent of artificial intelligence presents our species with an historic opportunity — disguised as an existential challenge: Can we stay human in the age of AI?&nbsp; In fact, can we grow in humanity, can we shape a more humane, more just, and sustainable world? With a sense of promise and urgency, we are embarked at MIT on an accelerated effort to more fully integrate the technical and humanistic forms of discovery in our curriculum and research, and in our habits of mind and action.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-foreword-dean-melissa-nobles" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Comparative Media Studies: William Uricchio, professor of comparative media studies</strong></p> <p>“Given our research and practice focus, the CMS perspective can be key for understanding the implications of computation for knowledge and representation, as well as computation’s relationship to the critical process of how knowledge works in culture — the way it is formed, shared, and validated.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Bring media and computer scholars together to explore issues that require both areas of expertise: text-generating algorithms (that force us to ask what it means to be human); the nature of computational gatekeepers (that compels us to reflect on implicit cultural priorities); and personalized filters and texts (that require us to consider the shape of our own biases).” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-cms-william-uricchio" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Global Languages: Emma J. Teng, the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Professor of Asian Civilizations</strong></p> <p>“Language and culture learning are gateways to international experiences and an important means to develop cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. Such understanding is essential to addressing the social and ethical implications of the expanding array of technology affecting everyday life across the globe.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “We aim to create a 21st-century language center to provide a convening space for cross-cultural communication, collaboration, action research, and global classrooms. We also plan to keep the intimate size and human experience of MIT’s language classes, which only increase in value as technology saturates the world.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-global-languages-emma-teng" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>History: Jeffrey Ravel, professor of history and head of MIT History </strong></p> <p>“Emerging innovations in computational methods will continue to improve our access to the past and the tools through which we interpret evidence. But the field of history will continue to be served by older methods of scholarship as well; critical thinking by human beings is fundamental to our endeavors in the humanities.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Call on the nuanced debates in which historians engage about causality to provide a useful frame of reference for considering the issues that will inevitably emerge from new computing technologies. This methodology of the history field is a powerful way to help imagine our way out of today’s existential threats.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-history-jeffrey-ravel" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Linguistics: Faculty of MIT Linguistics</strong></p> <p>“Perhaps the most obvious opportunities for computational and linguistics research concern the interrelation between specific hypotheses about the formal properties of language and their computational implementation in the form of systems that learn, parse, and produce human language.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Critically, transformative new tools have come from researchers at institutions where linguists work side-by-side with computational researchers who are able to translate back and forth between computational properties of linguistic grammars and of other systems.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-linguistics-faculty" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Literature: Shankar Raman, with Mary C. Fuller, professors of literature</strong></p> <p>“In the age of AI, we could invent new tools for reading. Making the expert reading skills we teach MIT students even partially available to readers outside the academy would widen access to our materials in profound ways.”</p> <p>Recommended action: At least three priorities of current literary engagement with the digital should be integrated into the SCC’s research and curriculum: democratization of knowledge; new modes of and possibilities for knowledge production; and critical analysis of the social conditions governing what can be known and who can know it.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-literature-shankar-raman" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Philosophy: Alex Byrne, professor of philosophy and head of MIT Philosophy; and Tamar Schapiro, associate professor of philosophy</strong></p> <p>“Computing and AI pose many ethical problems related to: privacy (e.g., data systems design), discrimination (e.g., bias in machine learning), policing (e.g., surveillance), democracy (e.g., the&nbsp;Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal), remote warfare, intellectual property, political regulation, and corporate responsibility.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “The SCC presents an opportunity for MIT to be an intellectual leader in the ethics of technology. The ethics lab we propose could turn this opportunity into reality.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-philosophy-alex-byrne-and-tamar-schapiro" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Science, Technology, and Society: Eden Medina and Dwaipayan Banerjee, associate professors of science, technology, and society</strong></p> <p>“A more global view of computing would demonstrate a broader range of possibilities than one centered on the American experience, while also illuminating how computer systems can reflect and respond to different needs and systems. Such experiences can prove generative for thinking about the future of computing writ large.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Adopt a global approach to the research and teaching in the SCC, an approach that views the U.S. experience as one among many.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-sts-dwai-banerjee-and-eden-medina" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Women's and Gender Studies: Ruth Perry, the Ann Friedlaender Professor of Literature; with Sally Haslanger, the Ford Professor of Philosophy, and Elizabeth Wood, professor of history</strong></p> <p>“The SCC presents MIT with a unique opportunity to take a leadership role in addressing some of most pressing challenges that have emerged from the role computing technologies play in our society — including how these technologies are reinforcing social inequalities.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Ensure that women’s voices are heard and that coursework and research is designed with a keen awareness of the difference that gender makes. This is the single-most powerful way that MIT can address the inequities in the computing fields.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-wgs-perry-haslanger-wood" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Writing: Tom Levenson, professor of science writing </strong></p> <p>“Computation and its applications in fields that directly affect society cannot be an unexamined good. Professional science and technology writers are a crucial resource for the mission of new college of computing, and they need to be embedded within its research apparatus.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Intertwine writing and the ideas in coursework to provide conceptual depth that purely technical mastery cannot offer.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-writing-thomas-levenson" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Music: Eran Egozy, professor of the practice in music technology</strong></p> <p>“Creating tomorrow’s music systems responsibly will require a truly multidisciplinary education, one that covers everything from scientific models and engineering challenges to artistic practice and societal implications. The new music technology will be accompanied by difficult questions. Who owns the output of generative music algorithms that are trained on human compositions? How do we ensure that music, an art form intrinsic to all humans, does not become controlled by only a few?”</p> <p>Recommended action: Through the SCC, our responsibility will be not only to develop the new technologies of music creation, distribution, and interaction, but also to study their cultural implications and define the parameters of a harmonious outcome for all.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-music-eran-egozy" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Theater Arts: Sara Brown, assistant professor of theater arts and MIT Theater Arts director of design</strong></p> <p>“As a subject, AI problematizes what is means to be human. There are an unending series of questions posed by the presence of an intelligent machine. The theater, as a synthetic art form that values and exploits liveness, is an ideal place to explore the complex and layered problems posed by AI and advanced computing.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “There are myriad opportunities for advanced computing to be integrated into theater, both as a tool and as a subject of exploration. As a tool, advanced computing can be used to develop performance systems that respond directly to a live performer in real time, or to integrate virtual reality as a previsualization tool for designers.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-theater-arts-sara-brown" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Anthropology: Heather Paxson, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology</strong></p> <p>“The methods used in anthropology —&nbsp;a field that systematically studies human cultural beliefs and practices — are uniquely suited to studying the effects of automation and digital technologies in social life. For anthropologists, ‘Can artificial intelligence be ethical?’ is an empirical, not a hypothetical, question. Ethical for what? To whom? Under what circumstances?”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Incorporate anthropological thinking into the new college to prepare students to live and work effectively and responsibly in a world of technological, demographic, and cultural exchanges. We envision an ethnography lab that will provide digital and computing tools tailored to anthropological research and projects.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-anthropology-heather-paxson" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Economics: Nancy L. Rose, the Charles P. Kindleberger Professor of Applied Economics and head of the Department of Economics; and David Autor, the Ford Professor of Economics and co-director of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future</strong></p> <p>“The intellectual affinity between economics and computer science traces back almost a century, to the founding of game theory in 1928. Today, the practical synergies between economics and computer science are flourishing. We outline some of the many opportunities for the two disciplines to engage more deeply through the new SCC.”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Research that engages the tools and expertise of economics on matters of fairness, expertise, and cognitive biases in machine-supported and machine-delegated decision-making; and on market design, industrial organization, and the future of work. Scholarship at the intersection of data science, econometrics, and causal inference. Cultivate depth in network science, algorithmic game theory and mechanism design, and online learning. Develop tools for rapid, cost-effective, and ongoing education and retraining for workers.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-economics-nancy-rose-and-david-autor" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Political Science: Faculty of the Department of Political Science</strong></p> <p>“The advance of computation gives rise to a number of conceptual and normative questions that are political, rather than ethical in character. Political science and theory have a significant role in addressing such questions as: How do major players in the technology sector seek to legitimate their authority to make decisions that affect us all? And where should that authority actually reside in a democratic polity?”</p> <p>Recommended action: “Incorporate the research and perspectives of political science in SCC research and education to help ensure that computational research is socially aware, especially with issues involving governing institutions, the relations between nations, and human rights.” <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-computing-and-ai-humanistic-perspectives-mit-political-science-faculty" target="_blank">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><span style="font-size:11px;"><em>Series prepared by SHASS Communications<br /> Series Editor and Designer: Emily Hiestand<br /> Series Co-Editor: Kathryn O’Neill</em></span></p> Image: Christine Daniloff, MITEducation, teaching, academics, Humanities, Arts, Social sciences, Computer science and technology, Artificial intelligence, Technology and society, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Anthropology, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Economics, Global Studies and Languages, History, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political science, Program in STS, Theater, Music and theater arts, Women's and Gender Studies Gita Manaktala receives 2019 Association of University Presses Constituency Award http://news.mit.edu/2019/gita-manaktala-receives-association-university-presses-constituency-award-0703 MIT Press editorial director recognized for service to the university press community. Wed, 03 Jul 2019 09:50:01 -0400 Kate Silverman Wilson http://news.mit.edu/2019/gita-manaktala-receives-association-university-presses-constituency-award-0703 <p>Gita Manaktala, editorial director of the MIT Press, was named the 2019 Association of University Presses (AUPresses) Constituency Award honoree at this year's AUPresses Annual Meeting in Detroit, Michigan. The award was introduced by Larin McLaughlin, editor-in-chief of University of Washington Press, during the opening banquet.</p> <p>"Her letters of nomination for this award illustrate how much so many of us cherish Gita's contributions to our work," <a href="https://uwpressblog.com/2019/06/12/celebrating-gita-manaktala/">McLaughlin remarked</a>. "One points out that 'her knowledge, her charisma, her humor, her charm are all generously bestowed on our membership.' Another describes Gita as 'a strong ambassador for the cooperative and collaborative spirit that defines the AUPresses.'"&nbsp;</p> <p>Manaktala's leadership of diversity and inclusion initiatives was seen as a signal achievement by many of her nominators. She has been one of the principal mentors involved in the Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship since its inception in 2016, a program that creates opportunities in university press acquisitions departments for talented scholars from diverse communities. The convener of a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group at her own press, she was also a founding member and co-chair, with McLaughlin, of the association's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, created in 2017. The AUPresses task force will become a full committee for equity, justice, and inclusion, with Manaktala continuing as a co-chair, this fall.</p> <p>Manaktala's nearly 30-year career at MIT Press has encompassed marketing as well as editorial areas of expertise. As marketing director at the press from 2004-08, she led global sales, marketing, publicity, and electronic product development efforts. As its editorial director since 2009, she has guided a large and complex acquisitions program and currently oversees the work of 14 acquiring editors.</p> <p>Her additional volunteer service to the association has been equally varied:</p> <ul> <li>She chaired the 2011 Annual Meeting Program Committee, constructing a conference that is well-remembered for its&nbsp;vibrant and community-building offerings.</li> <li>As part of&nbsp;the 2015-16 Acquisitions Editorial Committee, she helped create&nbsp;the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aupresses.org/policy-areas/peer-review" target="_blank">Best Practices for Peer Review</a>&nbsp;handbook, bringing together insights from dozens of acquisitions editors to produce this guiding document.&nbsp;</li> <li>She has served on the Faculty Outreach, Digital Publishing, and Nominating committees, and as a member of the association's board of directors since 2017.</li> </ul> <p>The association's award recognizes Manaktala as a multi-talented and collaborative leader and thanks her for her many contributions to the work of university presses and to a rich and inclusive publishing culture.</p> <p>Created in 1991, the AUPresses Constituency Award recognizes staff at member presses who have demonstrated active leadership and service to the association and the university press community. Coincidentally, last year's award winner, Colleen Lanick, was also an MIT Press staffer; she is currently publicity director of Harvard University Press. The full honor roll is available <a href="https://www.aupresses.org/aaup-members/constituency-award/honor-roll" target="_blank">here</a>.</p> Gita Manaktala, editorial director of the MIT PressMIT Press, Staff, Books and authors, Diversity and inclusion, Awards, honors and fellowships Engineers set the standards http://news.mit.edu/2019/joanne-yates-engineering-rules-0612 MIT business historian’s new book chronicles the emergence of global standardization in technology. Wed, 12 Jun 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/joanne-yates-engineering-rules-0612 <p>It might not seem consequential now, but in 1863, <em>Scientific American</em> weighed in on a pressing technological issue: the standardization of screw threads in U.S. machine shops. Given standard-size threads — the ridges running around screws and bolts — screws missing from machinery could be replaced with hardware from any producer. But without a standard, fixing industrial equipment would be harder or even impossible.</p> <p>Moreover, Great Britain had begun standardizing the size of screw threads, so why couldn’t the U.S.? After energetic campaigning by a mechanical engineer named William Sellers, both the U.S. Navy and the Pennsylvania Railroad got on board with the idea, greatly helping standardization take hold.</p> <p>Why did it matter? The latter half of the 1800s was an unprecedented time of industrial expansion. But the products and tools of the time were not necessarily uniform. Making them compatible served as an accelerant for industrialization. The standardization of screw threads was a signature moment in this process — along with new standards for steam boilers (which had a nasty habit of exploding) and for the steel rails used in train tracks.</p> <p>Moreover, what goes for 19th-century hardware goes for hundreds of things used in daily life today. From software languages to batteries, transmission lines to power plants, cement, and more, standardization still helps fuel economic growth.</p> <p>“Everything around us is full of standards,” says JoAnne Yates, the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management at MIT. “None of us could function without standards.”</p> <p>But how did this all come about? One might expect government treaties to be essential for global standards to exist. But time and again, Yates notes, industrial standards are voluntary and have the same source: engineers. Or, more precisely, nongovernmental standard-setting bodies dominated by engineers, which work to make technology uniform across borders.</p> <p>“On one end of a continuum is government regulation, and on the other are market forces, and in between is an invisible infrastructure of organizations that helps us arrive at voluntary standards without which we couldn’t operate,” Yates says.</p> <p>Now Yates is the co-author of a new history that makes the role of engineers in setting standards more visible than ever. The book, “Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting since 1880,” is being published this week by Johns Hopkins University Press. It is co-authored by Yates, who teaches in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Craig N. Murphy, who is the Betty Freyhof Johnson ’44 Professor of International Relations at Wellesley College.</p> <p><strong>Joint research project</strong></p> <p>As it happens, Murphy is also Yates’ husband — and, for the first time, they have collaborated on a research project.</p> <p>“He’s a political scientist and I’m a business historian, but we had said throughout our careers, ‘Some day we should write a book together,’” Yates says. When it crossed their radar as a topic, the evolution of standards “immediately appealed to both of us,” she adds. “From Craig’s point of view, he studies global governance, which also includes nongovernmental institutions like this. I saw it as important because of the way firms play a role in it.”</p> <p>As Yates and Murphy see it, there have been three distinct historical “waves” of technological standardization. The first, the late 19th- and early 20th-century industrial phase, was spurred by the professionalization of engineering itself. Those engineers were trying to impose order on a world far less organized than ours: Although the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to set standards, a U.S. National Bureau of Standards was not created until 1901, when there were still 25 different basic units of length — such as “rods” — being used in the country.</p> <p>Much of this industrial standardization occured country by country. But by the early 20th century, engineers ramped up their efforts to make standards international — and some, like the British engineer Charles le Maistre, a key figure in the book, were very aspirational about global standards.</p> <p>“Technology evangelists, like le Maistre, spread the word about the importance of standardizing and how technical standards should transcend politics and transcend national boundaries,” Yates says, adding that many had a “social movement-like fervor, feeling that they were contributing to the common good. They even thought it would create world peace.”</p> <p>It didn’t. Still, the momentum for standards created by Le Maistre carried into the post-World War II era, the second wave detailed in the book. This new phase, Yates notes, is exemplified by the creation of the standardized shipping container, which made world-wide commerce vastly easier in terms of logistics and efficiency.</p> <p>“This second wave was all about integrating the global market,” Yates says.&nbsp;</p> <p>The third and most recent wave of standardization, as Yates and Murphy see it, is centered on information technology — where engineers have once again toiled, often with a sense of greater purpose, to develop global standards.</p> <p>To some degree this is an MIT story; Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, moved to MIT to establish a global standards consortium for the web, W3C, which was founded in 1994, with the Institute’s backing. More broadly, Yates and Murphy note, the era is marked by efforts to speed up the process of standard-setting, “to respond to a more rapid pace of technological change” in the world.</p> <p><strong>Setting a historical standard</strong></p> <p>Intriguingly, as Yates and Murphy document, many efforts to standardize technologies required firms and business leaders to put aside their short-term interests for a longer-term good — whether for a business, an industry, or society generally.</p> <p>“You can’t explain the standards world entirely by economics,” Yates says. “And you can’t explain the standards world entirely by power.”</p> <p>Other scholars regard the book as a significant contribution to the history of business and globalization. Yates and Murphy “demonstrate the crucial impact of private and informal standard setting on our daily lives,” according to Thomas G. Weiss, a professor of international relations and global governance at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Weiss calls the book “essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the major changes in the global economy.”</p> <p>For her part, Yates says she hopes readers will, among other things, reflect on the idealism and energy of the engineers who regarded international standards as a higher cause.</p> <p>“It is a story about engineers thinking they could contribute something good for the world, and then putting the necessary organizations into place.” Yates notes. “Standardization didn’t create world peace, but it has been good for the world.”</p> JoAnne Yates and her new book “Engineering Rules: Global Standard Setting Since 1880.” Image: Ed CollierSloan School of Management, Business, History, Economics, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Information Technology, Books and authors, Technology and society, Faculty The politics of ugly buildings http://news.mit.edu/2019/ugliness-judgment-architecture-0524 In new book, MIT’s Timothy Hyde looks at the architectural controversies that have helped shape Britain. Fri, 24 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/ugliness-judgment-architecture-0524 <p>In 1984, when the British government was planning to build a flashy modernist addition to the National Gallery in London, Prince Charles offered a dissenting view. The proposed extension, he said, resembled “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” A public controversy ensued, and eventually a more subtle addition was built.</p> <p>There is more to the story, however. Prince Charles’ public interventions into architecture fell into a legal gray area. Was he improperly trying use the influence of the British monarchy — now meant to be nonpolitical — to affect government policy?</p> <p>“It’s not quite clear whether Prince Charles was speaking as a private citizen or as a future monarch,” says Timothy Hyde, the Clarence H. Blackall Career Development Associate Professor in MIT’s Department of Architecture. He adds: “Because of his architectural pronouncements, a series of constitutional debates has emerged about how such opinions should be regulated, or if they should be regulated at all.”</p> <p>Indeed, Prince Charles’ public tussles over architecture have led to legal battles. In 2015, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that 27 advocacy memos Prince Charles had written to various officials — on architecture, the environment, and other subjects — could not be kept private, meaning the public could scrutinize his activities. And more recently, Prince Charles has vowed not to make similar policy interventions should he become king.</p> <p>So for Prince Charles, debates over architecture have spilled into questions of political power. But as Hyde explores in a new book, “Ugliness and Judgment: On Architecture in the Public Eye,” published by Princeton University Press, this is hardly unique. In Britain alone, Hyde notes, controversies specifically over the “ugliness” of buildings have shaped matters from libel law to environmental policy.</p> <p>“Aesthetic arguments about ugliness have often served to tie architectural thinking to other kinds of debates and questions in parallel spheres of social and cultural production — things like science, law, professionalism,” Hyde says. “Debates about ugliness are very easily legible as debates about politics.”</p> <p><strong>Clearing the air</strong></p> <p>The impetus for the book, says Hyde, an architectural historian, came partly from the sheer number of people who have commented about “ugly” buildings to him.&nbsp;</p> <p>“It’s the frequency of that phrase, ‘What an ugly building,’ that really piqued my curiosity about ugliness,” Hyde says.</p> <p>“Ugliness is an undertheorized dimension of architecture, given how common that critique is,” he adds. “People always think buildings are ugly. Particularly as a historian of modern architecture, I encounter any number of people who say ‘Oh, you’re a modern architectural historian, can you explain, why would an architect ever think to do a building like that?’”</p> <p>Hyde’s book, however, is not simply about aesthetics. Instead, as he soon noticed, disputes centered around “ugly” buildings have a way of leaping into other domains of life. Consider libel laws. In the first decades of the 19th century, the prominent architect Sir John Soane filed a long series of libel cases against critics, which led to the larger evolution of the law.</p> <p>“There was a prevailing assumption at the time that a work of architecture, a work of art, a work of literature, was an embodiment of its creator,” Hyde says. A critique of a building, then, could be seen a personal attack on an individual. But as Soane filed one libel cases after another — against people who used terms like “a ridiculous piece of architecture” and “a palpable eyesore” — he lost again and again. A bad review, the legal community decided, was simply that.&nbsp;</p> <p>“In the cases that John Soane brought for libel, all of which he lost … the modern conception that we have within libel law, of art criticism being a special case, emerged,” Hyde says. “Now what we take for granted, this modern idea that one can criticize a work of architecture or book, without necessarily saying its creator is a bad or immoral person, begins to emerge as a legal concept.”</p> <p>Or take environmental policy, which gained traction in Britain due to concerns about the aesthetics of the Houses of Parliament. As Hyde details, the 19th century reconstruction of Britain’s Parliament — the old one burned in 1834 — soon became derailed, in the 1840s, by concerns that its limestone was already decaying and becoming ugly.</p> <p>A formal inquiry by the end of the 1850s concluded that the sulphuric “acid rain” from London’s sooty atmosphere was corroding the city’s buildings — an important step for the incorporation of science into 19th-century policymaking, and a finding that helped usher in Britain’s 1875 Public Health Act, which directly addressed such pollution.</p> <p><strong>The levers of power</strong></p> <p>“Ugliness and Judgment” has received praise from other architectural historians. Daniel M. Abramson, a professor of architecture at Boston University, calls it “a superb piece of scholarship, opening up new ways, through the lens of ugliness, to understand and connect a whole range of canonical figures, buildings, and themes.”</p> <p>To be sure, as Hyde readily notes, the geographic scope of “Ugliness and Judgement” is limited to Britain, and almost exclusively on London architecture. It could well be worthwhile, he notes, to look at controversies over architecture, ugliness, and power in other settings, which might have their own distinctive elements.</p> <p>Still, he notes, studying Britain alone uncovers a rich history stemming from the notion of “ugliness” by itself.</p> <p>“Disagreements over questions of ugliness are much more volatile than disagreements over questions of beauty,” Hyde says. When it comes to politics and the law, he observes, “In some sense, beauty doesn’t matter as much. ... The stakes are different.” Few people try to prevent buildings from being built, he notes, if they are merely a bit less beautiful than onlookers had hoped.</p> <p>Perceptions of ugliness, however, precipitate civic battles.</p> <p>“It’s a way to look for the levers of power,” Hyde says. &nbsp;</p> Timothy Hyde and his new book, “Ugliness and Judgment.”Photo: Tom Gearty/School of Architecture and PlanningSchool of Architecture and Planning, Architecture, Arts, History, Books and authors, Faculty, Research Hal Gregersen says questions are the answer http://news.mit.edu/2019/hal-gregersen-says-questions-are-answer-0517 New MIT Sloan Executive Education program helps executives identify &quot;unknown unknowns&quot; through catalytic questioning. Fri, 17 May 2019 16:25:01 -0400 MIT Sloan Executive Education http://news.mit.edu/2019/hal-gregersen-says-questions-are-answer-0517 <p>Do you have challenges in your professional or personal life to which you seemingly have no answers? Most of us do. <a href="http://executive.mit.edu/faculty/profile/342-hal-gregersen">Hal Gregersen</a>, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, author, and a motivational speaker, says we’re usually stuck because we’re asking the wrong question.</p> <p>So, how do we figure out the right one?</p> <p>That question sent Gregersen on a research quest including more than 200 interviews with some of the world’s most creative leaders, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.&nbsp;His latest book, "<a href="https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062844767/questions-are-the-answer/" target="_blank">Questions Are the Answer</a>" (Harper Collins, 2018), delivers the insights he gained about the conditions that give rise to catalytic questions — questions that dissolve barriers to creative thinking and channel the pursuit of solutions into new, accelerated pathways. This work has also led to Gregersen’s newest MIT Sloan Executive Education program launching in July, <a href="http://executive.mit.edu/openenrollment/program/questions-are-the-answer-a-breakthrough-approach-to-creative-problem-solving-innovation-and-change" target="_blank">Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Creative Problem Solving, Innovation, and Change</a>.</p> <p><strong>Banish your blind spots</strong></p> <p>The power and privilege of the C-suite can leave leaders insulated from internal trouble, external signals, and important insights. This “CEO bubble” creates a dangerous disconnect for leaders who must recognize when a major change in direction is required, yet often lack the information required to perceive a looming threat or opportunity.</p> <p>This “isolation” challenge at the apex of organizations surfaced again and again in Gregersen’s research. This predicament prevents leaders from getting a true sense of corporate performance, innovation, culture, morale, outcomes, and other critically important issues.</p> <p>While persistent CEOs may eventually get the information they request, it’s the questions they didn’t know to ask that often come back to haunt them. These unanticipated risks — or “unknown unknowns” — are business threats that can come out of nowhere. “Just ask the executives of the GPS device makers that were rendered irrelevant by free navigation apps on phones,” says Gregersen, “or the taxi businesses upended by ordinary car owners selling rides through Uber and Lyft.”</p> <p>Fortunately, the dangerous territory of unknown unknowns can be lit up by an insightful question. Gregersen has numerous examples of leaders who find the answer to a serious challenge by reframing the questions they asked. For example, the entrepreneur who created GoldieBlox, Debbie Sterling, wondered, “Why are all the great building toys made for boys?” Or, consider Nobel laureate Richard Thaler, who questioned, “Would it change economic theory if we stopped pretending people were rational?” Marc Benioff, founder of Salesforce, asked, “Why are we still loading and upgrading software when we have the internet?” And Rod Drury, founder of Xero, routinely asks, “What is the exact opposite of what an incumbent would expect us to do,” in order&nbsp;to challenge the industry.</p> <p>Asking such questions is essential in today’s world where globalization, digitization, and disruption push leaders to the edge of uncertainty and urge them to figure out what they don’t know they don’t know — before it’s too late.</p> <p><strong>Get uncomfortable</strong></p> <p>While leaders can’t formulate brilliant questions on command, they can increase the chances that flashes of insight will occur by understanding the conditions that give rise to them and pursuing those conditions.</p> <p>How often do you spend time in strikingly different places? How often do you talk with people who are extraordinarily different from you? Gregersen’s work explores how the most innovative leaders recognize their isolated positions and create intentional, formulaic strategies to fix this. They seek out new people, places, and experiences — often uncomfortable situations — that force them to uncover what they didn’t know they didn’t know and receive raw, unadulterated feedback. During the internet’s early years, Benioff traveled the world seeking new insights from dozens of strikingly different people. He and his senior leaders now regularly go on global “listening tours,” looking for weak strategic signals.</p> <p>Leaving your comfort zone puts you into a heightened state of alertness. You become extra receptive as you struggle to get your bearings or get on top of a disconcerting situation. When you’re in a situation like this, fresh questions race through your mind. And one of those questions just might be a game changer.</p> <p>Held in July and again in October, Questions Are the Answer aims to provide executives with frameworks and behavioral habits for cultivating an inquiry-driven approach to leadership and life. Gregersen will be joined by INSEAD Professor Roger Lehman and Executive Coach Kristen Kolakowski, who together will engage participants in hands-on discovery and deliver unique insights into the behaviors of extraordinary leaders that result in game-changing questions and organization-wide change. <span>INSEAD is a graduate business school with campuses in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.</span></p> Hal GregersenSloan Executive Education, Sloan School of Management, Leadership, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Books and authors, online learning, Classes and programs Grad student John Urschel tackles his lifelong balance of math and football in new memoir http://news.mit.edu/2019/student-john-urschel-math-football-0515 “Being capable of thinking quantitatively — it’s the single most important thing,” says the former NFL lineman. Wed, 15 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Jennifer Chu | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/student-john-urschel-math-football-0515 <p>It’s been nearly two years since John Urschel retired from the NFL at the age of 26, trading a career as a professional football player at the height of his game for a chance at a PhD in mathematics at MIT. From the looks of it, he couldn’t be happier.</p> <p>The former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens is now a full-time graduate student who spends his days in Building 2, poring over academic papers and puzzling over problems in graph theory, machine learning, and numerical analysis.</p> <p>In his new memoir, “Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football,” co-written with his wife, journalist and historian Louisa Thomas, Urschel writes about how he has balanced the messy, physically punishing world of football, with the elegant, cerebral field of mathematics.</p> <p>Urschel presents his life chronologically, through chapters that alternate in focus between math and football, as it often did in real life. For instance, he writes about a moment, following an ecstatic win as part of Penn State’s offensive line, when a coach pulled him aside with a message: With a little more work, he had a shot at the NFL.</p> <p>With that in mind, he writes, “I went home elated. … I left the football building with a new sense of purpose, a mission.” That same night, he opened his laptop and got to work on a paper that he planned to submit with his advisor to a top linear algebra journal. “Suddenly, surprisingly, I had a strange feeling: I felt torn,” he recalls.</p> <p>For those who see Urschel as a walking contradiction, or praise him as an exceptional outlier, he poses, in his book, a challenge:</p> <p>“So often, people want to divide the world into two: matter and energy. Wave and particle. Athlete and mathematician. Why can’t something (or someone) be both?”</p> <p><strong>A refuge in math</strong></p> <p>Before he could speak in full sentences, Urschel’s mother could tell that the toddler had a mind for patterns. To occupy the increasingly active youngster, she gave him workbooks filled with puzzles, which he eagerly devoured at the kitchen table. As he got older, she encouraged him further, and often competitively, with games of reasoning and calculation, such as Monopoly and Battleship. And in the grocery store, she let him keep the change if he could calculate the correct amount before the cashier rang it up.</p> <p>His mother made math a game, and by doing so, lit a lifelong spark. He credits her with recognizing and nurturing his natural interests — something that he hopes to do for his own toddler, Joanna, to whom he dedicates the book.</p> <p>When he was 5 years old, he saw a picture of his father in full pads, as a linebacker for the University of Alberta — his first exposure to the sport of football. From that moment, Urschel wanted to be like his dad, and he wanted to play football.</p> <p>And play he did, though he writes that he wasn’t driven by any innate athletic talent.</p> <p>“The only thing that set me apart from other kids when I played sports was my intensity as a competitor. I couldn’t stand losing — so much so that I would do everything in my power to try to win,” Urschel writes.</p> <p>This fierce drive earned him a full ride to Penn State University, where he forged a lasting connection with the college and its football team. His seemingly disparate talents in math and football started gaining some media attention, as a bright spot for Penn State in an otherwise dark period. (The team was facing national scrutiny as a consequence of the trial of former coach Jerry Sandusky.) But the more news outlets referred to him as a “student-athlete,” the more the moniker grated against him.</p> <p>“[The term ‘student-athlete’] is widely considered a joke of sorts in America,” Urschel says. “But it’s something you can actually do. It takes up a great deal of your time, and it’s not easy. But it is possible to be good at sports while tearing it up in academics.”</p> <p>Urschel proved this in back-to-back years at Penn State, culminating in 2013 with a paper he co-wrote with his advisor, Ludmil Zikatanov, on the spectral bisection of graphs and connectedness, which would later be named the Urschel-Zikatanov theorem. The following year, he was drafted, in the fifth round, by the Baltimore Ravens.</p> <p>He played his entire professional football career as a guard with the Ravens, in 40 games over two years, 13 of which he started. In 2015, in a full-pads practice at training camp with the team, Urschel was knocked flat with a concussion. Just weeks earlier, he had learned that he had been accepted to MIT, where he hoped to pursue a PhD in applied mathematics, during the NFL offseason.</p> <p>In the weeks following the concussion, he writes: “I’d reach for a theorem that I knew I knew, and it wouldn’t be there. I would try to visualize patterns, or to stretch or twist shapes — a skill that had always come particularly easy to me — and I would be unable to see the structures or make things move.”</p> <p>He eventually did regain his facility for math, along with, surprisingly, his need to compete on the field. Despite the possibility of suffering another concussion, he continued to play with the Ravens through 2015. During the off-season, in January 2016, Urschel set foot on the MIT campus to begin work on his PhD.</p> <p><strong>A quantitative mindset</strong></p> <p>“It was like stepping into my personal vision of paradise<em>,”</em> Urschel writes of his first time walking through MIT’s math department in Building 2, noting the chalkboards that lined the hallways, where “casual conversations quickly became discussions of open conjectures<em>.</em>” Urschel was no less impressed by MIT’s football team, whose practices he joined each Monday during that first semester.</p> <p>“These students have so much to do at MIT — it’s a very stressful place,” Urschel says. “And this is Division III football. It’s not high level, and they don’t have packed stands of fans — they’re truly just playing for the love of the game.”</p> <p>He says he was reluctant to return to pro football that summer, and realized throughout that season that he couldn’t wait for Sundays and the prospect of cracking open a math book and tackling problems with collaborators back at MIT and Penn State.</p> <p>An article in the <em>New York Times</em> in July 2017 tipped the scales that had, up until then, kept math and football as equal passions for Urschel. The article outlined a brain study of 111 deceased NFL players, showing 110 of those players had signs of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, associated with repeated blows to the head. Urschel writes that the study didn’t change his love for football, but it did make him reevaluate his choices.</p> <p>Two days after reading that article, Urschel announced his retirement from the NFL and packed his bags for a permanent move to MIT.</p> <p>Since then, he has focused his considerable energy on his &nbsp;research, as well as teaching. Last spring, he was a teaching assistant for the first time, in 18.03 (Differential Equations).</p> <p>“I love teaching,” says Urschel, who hopes to be a university math professor and encourages students in class to think creatively, rather than simply memorize the formulas that they’re taught.</p> <p>“I’m fighting against the idea of blindly applying formulas you just learned, and instead teaching students to use their brains,” Urschel says.</p> <p>He’s also making time to visit local high schools to talk math, and STEM education in general.</p> <p>“I’m a visible mathematician,” says Urschel — an understatement to be sure. “I have a responsibility to try to help popularize math, and remove some of its stigma.”</p> <p>His enthusiasm for the subject is highly effective, judging from the overwhelmingly positive reviews from his 18.03 students. Above all, though, he hopes to convey the importance of a “quantitative mindset.”</p> <p>“I don’t care so much if a random person on the street knows the quadratic formula,” Urschel says. “But I do care if they’re able to think through different problems, whether involving loans of two different rates, or how much you need to put in your 401k. Being capable of thinking quantitatively — it’s the single most important thing.”</p> In his new book, John Urschel, former Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman and current PhD candidate in mathematics at MIT, chronicles his life, lived between math and football.Credit: left image courtesy of John Urschel, book image courtesy of Penguin BooksMathematics, School of Science, Sports and fitness, Athletics, STEM education, Books and authors, Graduate, postdoctoral In cancer research, a winding road to discovery http://news.mit.edu/2019/cancer-a-contagious-cause-book-0514 Book by MIT professor examines the circuitous history behind the investigation of cancer as a contagious illness. Tue, 14 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/cancer-a-contagious-cause-book-0514 <p>In 1961, people in the suburb of Niles, Illinois, experienced what they termed a “cancer epidemic.” Over a dozen children in the town were diagnosed with leukemia within a short time. Fears quickly spread that the illness could be contagious, carried by some type of “cancer virus.” News coverage soon identified several other towns with apparent “cancer clusters,” as well. Belief that cancer was a simple contagion, like polio or the flu, kept bubbling up.</p> <p>“People wrote [to medical authorities] well into the 1960s asking, ‘I lived in a house where somebody had cancer. Am I going to catch cancer?’” says Robin Scheffler, the Leo Marx CD Assistant Professor in the History and Culture of Science and Technology at MIT.</p> <p>Those fears were taken seriously. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) created the Special Virus Leukemia Program in 1964 and over the next 15 years spent more than $6.5 billion (in 2017 dollars) on cancer virus research intended to develop a vaccine. That’s more than the funding for the subsequent Human Genome Project, as Scheffler points out.</p> <p>The results of that funding were complex, unanticipated — and significant, as Scheffler details in his new book, “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine,” published this week by the University of Chicago Press.</p> <p>In the process, scientists did not find — and never have — a single viral cause of cancer. On the other hand, as a direct result of the NCI’s funding project, scientists did find oncogenes, the type of gene which, when activated, can cause many forms of cancer.</p> <p>“That investment helped drive the field of modern molecular biology,” Scheffler says. “It didn’t find the human cancer virus. But instead of closing down, it invented a new idea of how cancer is caused, which is the oncogene theory.”</p> <p>As research has continued, scientists today have identified hundreds of types of cancer, and about one out of every six cases has viral origins. While there is not one “cancer virus,” some vaccinations reduce susceptibility to certain kinds of cancer. In short, our understanding of cancer has become more sophisticated, specific, and effective — but the path of progress has had many twists and turns.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Less insurance, more research</strong></p> <p>As Scheffler details in his book, fears that cancer was a simple contagion can be traced back at least to the 18th century. They appear to have gained significant ground in the early 20th-century U.S., however, influencing medical research and even hospital design.</p> <p>The rise of massive funding for cancer research is mostly a post-World War II phenomenon; like much of Scheffler’s narrative, its story contains developments that would have been very hard to predict.</p> <p>For instance, as Scheffler chronicles, one of the key figures in the growth of cancer research was the midcentury health care activist Mary Lasker, who with her husband had founded the Lasker Foundation in 1942, and over time helped transform the American Cancer Society.</p> <p>During the presidency of Harry S. Truman, however, Lasker’s main goal was the creation of universal health insurance for Americans — an idea that seemed realistic for a time but was eventually shot down in Washington. That was a major setback for Lasker. In response, though, she became a powerful advocate for federal funding of medical research — especially through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the NCI, one of the NIH’s arms.</p> <p>Scheffler calls this tradeoff — less government health insurance, but more biomedical research — the “biomedical settlement,” and notes that it was unique to the U.S. at the time. By contrast, in grappling with cancer through the 1960s, Britain and France, for example, put more relative emphasis on treatment, and Germany looked more extensively at environmental issues. Since the 1970s, there has been more convergence in the approaches of many countries.</p> <p>“The term ‘biomedical settlement’ is a phrase I created to describe an idea that seems commonplace in the United States but is actually very extraordinary in the context of other industrial nations — which is, we will not federalize health care, but we will federalize health research,” Scheffler says. “It’s remarkable to keep the government out of one but invite it into the other.”</p> <p>And while observers of the U.S. scientific establishment today know the NIH as a singular research force, they probably don’t think of it as compensation, in a sense, for the failed policy aims of Lasker and her allies.</p> <p>“Someone like Mary Lasker is one of the architects of the settlement out of her conviction there were ways to involve the federal government even if they couldn’t provide medical care,” Scheffler adds.</p> <p><strong>Fighting through frustration</strong></p> <p>The core of “A Contagious Cause” chronicles critical research developments in the 1960s and 1970s, as biologists made headway in understanding many forms of cancer. But beyond its rich narrative about the search for a single cancer virus, “A Contagious Cause” also contains plenty of material that underscores the highly contingent, unpredictable nature of scientific discovery.</p> <p>From stymied scientists to angry activists, many key figures in the book seemed to have reached dead ends before making the advances we now recognize. Yes, science needs funding, new instrumentation, and rich theories to advance. But it can also be fueled by frustration.</p> <p>“The thing I find interesting is that there are a lot of moments of frustration,” Scheffler says. “Things don’t go the way people want, and they have to decide what they’re going to do next. I think often the history of science focuses on moments of discovery, or highlights great innovations and their successes. But talking about frustration and failure is also a very important topic to highlight in terms of how we understand the history of science.”</p> <p>“A Contagious Cause” has received praise from other scholars. Angela Creager, a historian of science at Princeton University, has called it “powerfully argued” and “vital reading for historians of science and political historians alike.”</p> <p>For his part, Scheffler says he hopes his book will both illuminate the history of cancer research in the U.S. and underscore the need for policymakers to apply a broad set of tools as they guide our ongoing efforts to combat cancer.</p> <p>“Cancer is a molecular disease, but it’s also an environmental disease and a social disease. We need to understand the problem at all those levels to come up with a policy that best confronts it,” Scheffler says.</p> Robin Scheffler and his new book, “A Contagious Cause: The American Hunt for Cancer Viruses and the Rise of Molecular Medicine.”Image: Jon Sachs/SHASS CommunicationsBooks and authors, Program in STS, History, Faculty, Biology, Disease, Funding, History of science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences The (evolving) art of war http://news.mit.edu/2019/active-defense-chinese-military-0508 In new book, political scientist Taylor Fravel uncovers the modern history of Chinese military strategy. Wed, 08 May 2019 00:00:00 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/active-defense-chinese-military-0508 <p>In 1969, the Soviet Union moved troops and military equipment to its border with China, escalating tensions between the communist Cold War powers. In response, China created a new military strategy of “active defense” to repel an invading force near the border. There was just one catch: China did not actually implement its new strategy until 1980.</p> <p>Which raises a question: How could China have taken a full decade before shifting its military posture in the face of an apparent threat to its existence?</p> <p>“It really comes down to the politics of the Cultural Revolution,” says Taylor Fravel, a professor of political science at MIT and an expert in Chinese foreign policy and military thinking. “China was consumed with internal political upheaval.”</p> <p>That is, through the mid-1970s, leader Mao Zedong and his hardline allies sought to impose their own visions of politics and society on the country. Those internal divisions, and the extraordinary political strife accompanying them, kept China from addressing its external threats — even though it might sorely have needed a new strategy at the time.</p> <p>Indeed, Fravel believes, every major change in Chinese military strategy since 1949 — and there have been a few — has occurred in the same set of circumstances. Each time, the Chinese have recognized that global changes in warfare have occurred, but they have required political unity in Beijing to implement those changes. To understand the military thinking of one of the world’s superpowers, then, we need to understand its domestic politics.</p> <p>Fravel has synthesized these observations in a new book, “Active Defense: China’s Military Strategy since 1949,” published by Princeton University Press. The book offers a uniquely thorough history of modern Chinese military thinking, a subject that many observers have regarded as inscrutable.</p> <p>“One way to understand how great powers think about the use of military force is to examine their [formal] military strategy,” Fravel notes. “In this respect, China has not been studied as thoroughly or systematically as the other great powers.”</p> <p><strong>Rethinking Mao</strong></p> <p>Fravel’s book examines military thinking during the entire length of the People’s Republic of China, dating to 1949, when Mao led the communist takeover of the country. China was not at that point regarded as a serious military power, although Fravel notes that the country’s leaders were giving the idea of becoming one serious thought back then.</p> <p>“I think some people might be surprised to learn that China has been dedicated to building a modern military, and thus thinking about strategy, since the birth of the People’s Republic,” Fravel says.</p> <p>As Fravel sees it, based on a significant amount of original archival research, there are nine times in modern China’s history when the government has issued comprehensive new military strategies. These formal strategic plans, he thinks, are critical to understanding what Chinese leaders have thought about military force and how to use it.</p> <p>“It’s an articulation of principles that should guide subsequent activities,” Fravel says.</p> <p>Of these nine strategies, Fravel finds three to be particularly significant: Those issued in 1956, 1980, and 1993. The first of these articulated a posture of forward defense meant to insulate the country from invasion by, principally, the U.S.</p> <p>By the 1960s, however, the country had shifted toward a different military posture, one more in line with Mao’s own thinking, which featured an emphasis on guerilla-style retreat and concession of territory in the face of a potential invasion. The idea, deployed by Mao in China’s civil war in the 1930s, was to wear an enemy down over time while providing elusive targets for opponents.</p> <p>The Soviet massing of military forces just outside China in the late 1960s raised concerns that it might be better to pursue a more “active defense” — and thus the title of Fravel’s book — in which China positioned its armed forces to contain enemies near the border. But given all the internal political conflict (and leadership purges) within China, this shift did not gain enough traction to be implemented in the 1970s. Moreover, as a distinct change from Mao’s ideas, the notion of active defense required considerable political unity to be implemented.</p> <p>“In that sense, it was profoundly different, and perhaps challenging to pursue,” Fravel says. “They had to de-emphasize one of Mao’s core strategic principles.”</p> <p>Still, the new strategy became official policy, and remained such for over a decade — until Chinese military leaders watched the 1991 Gulf War on television and recognized that the new era of precision aerial warfare demanded another shift in strategy for them as well.</p> <p>“I think in many countries, the Gulf War catalyzed a complete rethinking of warfare in very short order,” Fravel says.</p> <p>And yet, even as this was occurring, China was experiencing yet another moment of internal political division, following the Tianamen Square massacre of 1989. It took another year or two, and a new internal political consensus, before China could develop a new, contemporary strategy for fighting high-tech wars.</p> <p>“What they wanted to do was really challenging,” Fravel says, noting that the new strategy requires complex coordination of different military domains — air, sea, and land — which had not previously been unified.</p> <p><strong>The nuclear exception</strong></p> <p>China’s 1993 statement of strategy remains a guidepost for its current military thinking. However, as Fravel notes, there is one area of military force — nuclear weapons — which is an “exception to the rule” he postulates about policy following unity. China has had nuclear weapons since the 1960s, while always considering them a deterrent to other countries, and not threatening first use of them.</p> <p>“When you look at the nuclear domain, they’ve basically had the same strategic goal since testing their first device in 1964, which is to deter other countries from attacking China first with nuclear weapons,” Fravel says. “It’s also the one element of defense strategy never delegated by top party leaders. It was so important to them, they never let go of the authority to devise nuclear strategy.”</p> <p>Other scholars regard “Active Defense” as a significant contribution to its field. Charles Glaser, a professor at George Washington University, states that Fravel “contributes significantly to our understanding of the evolution of China’s military strategy, and offers insightful theoretical arguments about civil-military relations.”</p> <p>Avery Goldstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, calls the book “an impressive achievement” and notes that Fravel “deftly draws on a wide range of literature about influences on military strategy” as well as “newly available sources of evidence” from historical archives.</p> <p>For Fravel’s part, he says that identifying the strong pattern leading to changes in China’s military strategy will help as a guide to the future, as well.</p> <p>“China is a country we know less about, in the study of international politics, than the other great powers,” Fravel says. “If there is a significant shift in the kinds of warfare in the international system, then China would be more likely to consider changing its military strategy.”</p> Taylor Fravel and his new book, “Active Defense: China's Military Strategy Since 1949.”Image: Taylor Fravel and Dominick ReuterSciences, Political science, Social sciences, China, Faculty, Books and authors, Research, International relations, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences 3Q: Susan Hockfield on a new age of living machines http://news.mit.edu/2019/3q-susan-hockfield-new-age-living-machines-0507 Convergence research at MIT and beyond seeks new solutions for global challenges. Tue, 07 May 2019 10:00:00 -0400 Bendta Schroeder | Koch Institute http://news.mit.edu/2019/3q-susan-hockfield-new-age-living-machines-0507 <p><em>What if viruses could build batteries with almost no toxic waste? What if a protein common to almost every organism on Earth could purify drinking water at a large scale? What if a nanoparticle-based urine test could detect the early signals of cancer? What if machine learning and other advanced computing methods could engineer higher crop yields? Such biotechnologies may sound like the province of science fiction, but are in fact just over the scientific horizon.</em></p> <p><em>In "The Age of Living Machines," a book published this week by W.W. Norton and Co., MIT President Emerita Susan Hockfield offers a glimpse into a possible future driven by a new convergence of biology and engineering. She describes how researchers from many disciplines, at MIT and elsewhere, are transforming elements of the natural world, such as proteins, viruses, and biological signaling pathways, into “living” solutions for some of the most important — and challenging — needs of the 21st century.</em></p> <p><strong>Q. </strong>What are living machines?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: Thanks to the emergence and expansion of the fields of molecular biology and genetics, we are amassing an ever-growing understanding of nature’s genius — the exquisitely adapted molecular and genetic machinery cells use to accomplish a multitude of purposes. I believe we are on the brink of a convergence revolution, where engineers and physical scientists are recognizing how we can use this biological “parts list” to adapt these natural machines to our own uses.</p> <p>We can already see this revolution at work. In the late 1980s, Peter Agre, a physician-scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center, found an unknown protein that contaminated his every attempt to isolate the Rh protein from red blood cells. Intrigued by this mysterious interloper, he persevered until he revealed its function and structure. The protein, which he named “aquaporin,” turned out to be an essential piece of the cell’s apparatus for maintaining the right balance of water inside and outside of the cell. Its structure is superbly adapted to let water molecules — and only water molecules — pass through in large number with remarkable efficiently and speed.</p> <p>The discovery of aquaporin transformed our understanding of the fundamental biology of cells, and thanks to the insight of Agre’s biophysicist colleagues, it may also transform our ability to purify drinking water at a large scale. With the launch of the company Aquaporin A/S in 2005, engineers, chemists, and biologists are translating this molecular machine into working water purification systems, now in people’s sinks and even, in 2015, in space, recycling drinking water for Danish astronauts.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>Why do we need living machines?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: We are facing an existential crisis. The anticipated global population of more than 9.7 billion by 2050 poses daunting challenges for providing sufficient energy, food, and water, as well as health care, more accurately and at lower cost. These challenges are enormous in scale and complexity, and we will need to take equally enormous leaps in our imagination to meet them successfully.</p> <p>But I am optimistic. Innovations like those inspired by the structure of aquaporin or the <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2009/virus-battery-0402">viruses</a> that MIT materials scientist and biological engineer Angela Belcher is adapting to build more powerful, smaller batteries with cleaner, more efficient energy storage, demonstrate just how bold we can be. And yet I think the true promise of living machines lies in what we haven’t imagined yet.</p> <p>In 1937, MIT President Karl Taylor Compton wrote a delightful essay called “The Electron: Its Intellectual and Social Significance” to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the electron. Compton wrote that the electron was “the most versatile tool ever utilized,” having already resulted in seemingly magical technologies, such as radio, long-distance telephone calls, and soundtracks for movies. But Compton also recognized — accurately — that we had not even begun to realize the impact of its discovery.</p> <p>In the coming decades, the atomic parts list discovered by physicists sparked a first convergence revolution, bringing us radar, television, computers, and the internet, just to start. Neither Compton nor anyone else could fully imagine the breadth of innovations to come or how radically our conception of what is possible would be altered. We can’t predict the transformations that “Convergence 2.0” will bring any more than Compton could predict the internet in 1937. But we can see clearly from the first convergence revolution that if we’re willing to throw open the doors of innovation, world-changing ideas will walk through.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>How do we ensure that these doors remain open?</p> <p><strong>A</strong>: The convergence revolution is happening all around us, but its success is not inevitable. For it to succeed at the maximum pace with maximum impact, biologists and engineers, along with clinicians, physicists, computational scientists, and others, need to be able to move across disciplines with shared ambition. This will require us to reorganize our thinking and our funding.</p> <p>The organization of universities into departments serves us well in a number of ways, but it sometimes leads to disciplinary boundaries that can be quite difficult to cross. Interdisciplinary labs and centers can serve as reaction vessels that catalyze new approaches to research. Models for this abound at MIT. For example, soon after chemical engineer Paula Hammond joined MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, she found a new use for the layer-by-layer fabrication of nanomaterials she pioneered for energy storage devices. With the expertise of physician and molecular biologist Michael Yaffe, Hammond used that same layering method to produce <a href="http://news.mit.edu/2014/chemotherapy-timing-key-success-0508">nanoparticles</a> that deliver a one-two punch of different anti-cancer drugs carefully timed to increase their effectiveness.</p> <p>Our biggest sources of funding likewise constrain cross-disciplinary efforts, with the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the departments of Energy and Defense all investing in research along disciplinary lines. Increased experimentation with cross-disciplinary and cross-agency funding initiatives could help break down those barriers. We have already seen what such funding models can do. The Human Genome Project — which brought together biologists, computer scientists, chemists, and technologists with funding primarily from U.S.- and U.K.-based agencies — did not just give us the first map of the human genome, but paved the way for tools that allow us to study cells and diseases at entirely new scales of depth and breadth.</p> <p>But ultimately, we need to renew a shared national commitment to developing new ideas. This July, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. While some might argue that it offered no real benefit, it produced enormous technological gains. We should recall that the technological feat of putting men on the moon and returning them to Earth was accomplished during a time of profound social disruption. Besides providing a focus for our shared ambitions and hopes, the drive to put astronauts on the moon also led to an amazing acceleration of technology in numerous areas including computing, nanotechnology, transportation, aeronautics, and health care. History shows us we need to be willing to make these great leaps, without necessarily knowing where they will take us. Convergence 2.0, the convergence of biology with engineering and the physical sciences, offers a new model for invention, for collaboration, and for shared ambition to solve some of the most pressing problems of this century.</p> Susan HockfieldImage courtesy of the Koch InstituteSchool of Science, School of Engineering, Biology, Bioengineering and biotechnology, Biological engineering, Cancer, Chemical engineering, Collaboration, Disease, Drug delivery, Funding, Genetics, Government, Health, Koch Institute, Medicine, Nanoscience and nanotechnology, Water purification, Faculty, Books and authors, 3 Questions Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT announces 2019-20 fellowship class http://news.mit.edu/2019/knight-science-journalism-program-mit-2019-20-fellowship-class-0506 Ten top journalists from seven countries will spend an academic year studying at MIT. Mon, 06 May 2019 15:00:00 -0400 Knight Science Journalism program http://news.mit.edu/2019/knight-science-journalism-program-mit-2019-20-fellowship-class-0506 <p>The Knight Science Journalism program at MIT, an internationally renowned mid-career fellowship program, is proud to announce that 10 elite science journalists representing seven countries and four continents will make up its class of 2019-20.</p> <p>The fellows, selected from more than 120 applicants, are an award-winning and diverse group. They include accomplished reporters from the <em>Des Moines Register</em> and <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em>, veteran editors of international outlets like the BBC and <em>New Scientist</em>, and a freelance journalist who was recently named the European Science Writer of the Year.</p> <p>The fellows will come to Cambridge for a 10-month fellowship that allows them to explore science, technology, and the craft of journalism in depth, to concentrate on a specialty in science, and to learn at some of the top research universities in the world.</p> <p>“This is a tremendous group of journalists doing work that has real impact,” says Deborah Blum, the program's director. “I think they’ll find that Cambridge is really a unique and inspiring place to learn and grow as a science journalist.”</p> <p>The Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT (KSJ), supported by a generous endowment from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is recognized around the world as the premier mid-career fellowship program for science writers, editors, and multimedia journalists. With support from the program, fellows pursue an academic year of independent study, augmented by twice-weekly seminars taught by some of the world’s leading scientists and storytellers, as well as a variety of rotating, skills-focused master classes and workshops. The goal: fostering professional growth among the world’s small but essential community of journalists covering science and technology, and encouraging them to pursue that mission, first and foremost, in the public interest.</p> <p>Since its founding in 1983, the program has hosted more than 350 fellows representing media outlets from <em>The New York Times</em> to <em>Le Monde</em>, from CNN to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and more.</p> <p>In addition to the fellowship program, KSJ publishes the award-winning digital magazine <em>Undark</em> and administers a national journalism prize, the Victor K. McElheny Award. KSJ’s academic home at MIT is the Program in Science, Technology and Society, which is part of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> <p>The 2019-20 KSJ fellows are:</p> <p><strong>Anil Ananthaswamy</strong> is a freelance journalist and former staff writer and deputy news editor for <em>New Scientist</em>. He also writes for <em>Nature</em>, <em>Scientific American</em>, <em>Quanta</em>, and PNAS’s Front Matter, among others. In 2013, he won the Association of British Science Writers’ Best Investigative Journalism award. He has authored three books: “The Edge of Physics,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” which was longlisted for the 2016 Pen/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and most recently, “Through Two Doors at Once.” He teaches an annual science journalism workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India.</p> <p><strong>Bethany Brookshire</strong> is a staff writer for <em>Science News for Students</em>, a digital magazine that covers the latest in scientific research for children ages 9-14. She is also a contributor to <em>Science News</em> magazine, and a host of the independent podcast Science for the People. She edited “Science Blogging: The Essential Guide,” published in 2016, and has contributed freelance work to <em>Scientific American</em>, Slate, <em>The Guardian</em>, and many other leading publications. She has a BS in biology, a BA in philosophy, and a PhD in physiology and pharmacology.</p> <p><strong>John Fauber</strong> is an investigative medical reporter with the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em> and the USA Today Network. His stories also appear in MedPage Today. Since 2009, Fauber’s work has focused on conflicts of interest in medicine. He has won more than 25 national journalism awards, leading to a special commendation for his consistent excellence from the <em>Columbia Journalism Review</em>. Fauber also was a major contributor to a series of stories on prion diseases in humans and animals that was selected as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting in 1993.</p> <p><strong>Andrada Fiscutean</strong> is a science and technology journalist based in Romania. She has written about Eastern European hackers, journalists attacked with malware, and North Korean scientists. Her work has been featured in <em>Nature</em>, <em>Ars Technica</em>, <em>Wired</em>, Vice Motherboard, and ZDNet. She’s also editor-in-chief of ProFM radio, where she assembled a team of journalists who cover local news. In 2017, she won Best Feature Story at SuperScrieri, the highest award in Romanian journalism. Passionate about the history of technology, Fiscutean owns several home computers made in Eastern Europe during the 1980s.</p> <p><strong>Richard Fisher</strong> is managing editor of BBC.com features and editor of BBC Future, a science, health and technology features website aimed at international audiences. Through evidence-based analysis, original ideas, and human stories, BBC Future is dedicated to exploring how our world is changing. The site won a 2019 Webby award for “best writing (editorial).” Fisher also oversees the teams behind BBC Culture, the BBC’s global arts site, and BBC Reel, which features short-form factual video stories. Before that, he was a senior news editor and feature editor at <em>New Scientist</em> in London.</p> <p><strong>Tony Leys</strong> has worked at the <em>Des Moines Register</em> as an editor and reporter since 1988. He has been the newspaper’s main health care reporter since 2000, with a strong focus on mental health and health care policy. He also helps cover politics, including Iowa’s presidential caucus campaigns. Leys grew up in the Milwaukee area and graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is a national board member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.</p> <p><strong>Thiago Medaglia</strong> is an independent reporter for <em>National Geographic Brazil</em>, where he was previously an editor. Medaglia is also the founder of Ambiental Media, a Brazilian startup that transforms scientific content into accessible, compelling, and innovative journalism products. An award-winning reporter and writer, he has published stories in several media outlets, such as ESPN Brazil, <em>Mother Jones</em>, <em>Estadão</em>, <em>Folha de São Paulo</em>, and others. He is co-author of six books on environmental topics and was a 2015 fellow at the International Center for Journalists.</p> <p><strong>Sonali Prasad</strong> has degrees in both computer science and journalism. In 2016, she was a Google News Lab fellow and won a grant from the Brown Institute of Media Innovation to study coral reef health. She has reported on science and environment issues for publications such as the <em>The Guardian</em>, <em>The Washington Post</em>, Quartz, Mongabay, and <em>Hakai Magazine</em>. She was hired as an investigative reporter at the Columbia Journalism School's Energy and Environment Project, and her team's work on the U.S. Export-Import Bank's dirty fossil fuel investments won an 'Honorable Mention' at the Society of Environmental Journalist awards.</p> <p><strong>Molly Segal</strong> is an independent radio journalist based in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. Her documentaries and reports on environment and science air on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national radio programs — including Quirks &amp; Quarks, Ideas, Tapestry, and The World This Weekend — as well as WHYY’s The Pulse and WBUR/NPR’s Here and Now. Molly has worked for CBC Radio/TV, stationed across Canada. Her work takes her to remote mountains looking for grizzlies, counting miniscule snails in ancient hot springs, and observing paleontologists looking for 500-million-year-old fossils. Molly is the host and producer of The Narwhal’s upcoming inaugural podcast, Undercurrent: Bear 148.</p> <p><strong>Eva Wolfangel</strong> is a German science journalist, focusing on future technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, computer science, data journalism, interaction between digital and real worlds, and space travel. She writes for major magazines and newspapers in Germany and Switzerland — including <em>ZEIT</em>, <em>Geo</em>, <em>Spiegel</em>, and <em>NZZ</em> — and produces radio features. After several years as an editor, she became a freelance journalist in 2008. Eva’s specialty is to combine creative writing and technical topics in order to reach a broad audience. In 2018 she was named European Science Writer of the Year by the Association of British Science Writers.</p> Photo: Eric Baetscher/Wikimedia CommonsScience communications, Science writing, awards, Awards, honors and fellowships, Program in Science, Technology, and Society, Knight fellowship Three from MIT awarded 2019 Guggenheim Fellowships http://news.mit.edu/2019/three-from-mit-awarded-guggenheim-fellowships-0422 Professors David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth Mnookin are among 168 recognized. Mon, 22 Apr 2019 17:10:01 -0400 Laura Carter | School of Science http://news.mit.edu/2019/three-from-mit-awarded-guggenheim-fellowships-0422 <p>Three MIT faculty members are among 168 people out of 3,000 applicants granted a fellowship by the <a href="https://www.gf.org/">John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation</a>. The foundation's announcement notes that the awardees were chosen based on their prior accomplishments and strong future potential. The MIT recipients are David Jerison and Hong Liu in the School of Science, and Seth Mnookin in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.</p> <p>“It’s exceptionally satisfying to name 168 new Guggenheim Fellows,” says Edward Hirsch, president of the Guggenheim Foundation. “These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best.” This year’s recipients join more than 18,000 extraordinary individuals who previously received this honor.</p> <p><a href="http://math.mit.edu/~jerison/">David Jerison</a>, a professor in the <a href="https://math.mit.edu/">Department of Mathematics</a>, has received <a href="https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/david-jerison/">a Guggenheim fellowship</a> to study interfaces that divide regions in optimal ways; these can be applied to situations where minimized energy or cost is important. Previously, he was one of 10 principal investigators awarded a 2018 Simons Foundation Collaboration Grant. He is also a recipient of a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, the Bergman Prize, and a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award. He is also currently a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Mathematical Society, and vice president of the American Mathematical Society. A dedicated teacher, Jerison became an MIT MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2004 and has designed many popular courses for MIT’s Open Courseware, <em>MITx</em> and edX.</p> <p><a href="https://web.mit.edu/physics/people/faculty/liu_hong.html">Hong Liu</a> will be applying <a href="https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/hong-liu/">his fellowship</a> to his interdisciplinary research on black holes, turbulence, and quantum many-body systems. A professor in the <a href="https://physics.mit.edu/">Department of Physics</a>, Liu has helped found interconnections between gravitational, nuclear and condensed matter physics, one of the first to use string theory to study quark-gluon plasma and identify similarities between black holes and superconductors. Prior to this fellowship, he was elected an Alfred Sloan Fellow, an Outstanding Junior Investigator by the Department of Energy, and a Simons Fellow.</p> <p><a href="http://sethmnookin.com/">Seth Mnookin</a> is the director of the <a href="http://sciwrite.mit.edu/">Graduate Program in Science Writing</a> and a professor in the <a href="https://cmsw.mit.edu/">Comparative Media Studies/Writing</a> program. He has authored three books to date: his first was recognized as Best Book of the Year by <em>The Washington Post,</em> his second reached <em>The New York Times</em>' bestseller list, and the most recent won the “Science in Society Award” from the National Association of Science Writers. <a href="https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/seth-mnookin/">The Guggenheim Fellowship</a> is the most recent award for Mnookin, whose other accolades include the American Medical Writers Association prize for best story of 2014 and his election to the board of the National Association of Science Writers.</p> Guggenheim Fellowship recipients (left to right) David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth MnookinPhotos: David Jerison, Hong Liu, and Seth MnookinSchool of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Mathematics, Physics, Science writing, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Awards, honors and fellowships, Faculty Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize announces winners for 2019 http://news.mit.edu/2019/isabelle-de-courtivron-writing-prize-announces-winners-0422 Five undergrads writing on immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. Mon, 22 Apr 2019 12:20:01 -0400 Lisa Hickler | Global Studies and Languages http://news.mit.edu/2019/isabelle-de-courtivron-writing-prize-announces-winners-0422 <p>Global Studies and Languages announced this year's winners of the Isabelle de Courtivron writing prize, awarded annually to recognize high-quality undergraduate writing (creative or expository) on topics related to immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. The prize was established to honor Distinguished Professor Emerita Isabelle de Courtivron on the occasion of her retirement in 2010.</p> <p>Five undergraduates received awards: First Prize went to Ivy Li for “To See a Brief Future.” Second Place prizes were awarded to Hanna Kherzai for "Don’t Tell Them” and Chloe Yang for “Dear Asian Tourists of MIT.” Honorable Mentions were awarded to Angela Lin for "Lost in Translation” and Abdalla Osman for "Dear Brother."</p> <p>The judges noted that every single one of this year’s entries was profoundly moving. The writers shared their and their families’ inner worlds, leading readers through their lived experiences in between worlds, cultures, and languages; experiences that played out in a wide array of spaces, from the intimacy of a living room or a phone conversation, to airports and temples, to MIT’s chaotic Infinite Corridor and career fair. It was most humbling to be let into these worlds, to be entrusted with these stories and with the writers’ vulnerability. The winning pieces span a variety of genres: poetry, drama, and creative non-fiction. Family is central in most of the entries.</p> <p>The prize winners will be honored at the GSL Spring Fest April 22, along with other honorees. <a href="http://mitgsl.mit.edu/news/writing-prize-winners-2019-announced">Read the prize-winning entries</a> and learn more about the writers.</p> MIT junior Ivy Li won First Prize for her poem "To See a Brief Future." School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Writing, Awards, honors and fellowships, Students, Global Studies and Languages, Diversity and inclusion Can science writing be automated? http://news.mit.edu/2019/can-science-writing-be-automated-ai-0418 A neural network can read scientific papers and render a plain-English summary. Wed, 17 Apr 2019 23:59:59 -0400 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/can-science-writing-be-automated-ai-0418 <p>The work of a science writer, including this one, includes reading journal papers filled with specialized technical terminology, and figuring out how to explain their contents in language that readers without a scientific background can understand.</p> <p>Now, a team of scientists at MIT and elsewhere has developed a neural network, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), that can do much the same thing, at least to a limited extent: It can read scientific papers and render a plain-English summary in a sentence or two.</p> <p>Even in this limited form, such a neural network could be useful for helping editors, writers, and scientists scan a large number of papers to get a preliminary sense of what they’re about. But the approach the team developed could also find applications in a variety of other areas besides language processing, including machine translation and speech recognition.</p> <p>The <a href="http://super-ms.mit.edu/rum.html" target="_blank">work is described</a> in the journal <em>Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics</em>, in a paper by Rumen Dangovski and Li Jing, both MIT graduate students; Marin Soljačić, a professor of physics at MIT; Preslav Nakov, a principal scientist at the Qatar Computing Research Institute, HBKU; and Mićo Tatalović, a former Knight Science Journalism fellow at MIT and a former editor at <em>New Scientist</em> magazine.</p> <p><strong>From AI for physics to natural language</strong></p> <p>The work came about as a result of an unrelated project, which involved developing new artificial intelligence approaches based on neural networks, aimed at tackling certain thorny problems in physics. However, the researchers soon realized that the same approach could be used to address other difficult computational problems, including natural language processing, in ways that might outperform existing neural network systems.</p> <p>“We have been doing various kinds of work in AI for a few years now,” Soljačić says. “We use AI to help with our research, basically to do physics better. And as we got to be&nbsp; more familiar with AI, we would notice that every once in a while there is an opportunity to add to the field of AI because of something that we know from physics — a certain mathematical construct or a certain law in physics. We noticed that hey, if we use that, it could actually help with this or that particular AI algorithm.”</p> <p>This approach could be useful in a variety of specific kinds of tasks, he says, but not all. “We can’t say this is useful for all of AI, but there are instances where we can use an insight from physics to improve on a given AI algorithm.”</p> <p>Neural networks in general are an attempt to mimic the way humans learn certain new things: The computer examines many different examples and “learns” what the key underlying patterns are. Such systems are widely used for pattern recognition, such as learning to identify objects depicted in photos.</p> <p>But neural networks in general have difficulty correlating information from a long string of data, such as is required in interpreting a research paper. Various tricks have been used to improve this capability, including techniques known as long short-term memory (LSTM) and gated recurrent units (GRU), but these still fall well short of what’s needed for real natural-language processing, the researchers say.</p> <p>The team came up with an alternative system, which instead of being based on the multiplication of matrices, as most conventional neural networks are, is based on vectors rotating in a multidimensional space. The key concept is something they call a rotational unit of memory (RUM).</p> <p>Essentially, the system represents each word in the text by a vector in multidimensional space — a line of a certain length pointing in a particular direction. Each subsequent word swings this vector in some direction, represented in a theoretical space that can ultimately have thousands of dimensions. At the end of the process, the final vector or set of vectors is translated back into its corresponding string of words.</p> <p>“RUM helps neural networks to do two things very well,” Nakov says. “It helps them to remember better, and it enables them to recall information more accurately.”</p> <p>After developing the RUM system to help with certain tough physics problems such as the behavior of light in complex engineered materials, “we realized one of the places where we thought this approach could be useful would be natural language processing,” says Soljačić,&nbsp; recalling a conversation with Tatalović, who noted that such a tool would be useful for his work as an editor trying to decide which papers to write about. Tatalović was at the time exploring AI in science journalism as his <a href="https://jcom.sissa.it/archive/17/01/JCOM_1701_2018_E">Knight fellowship project</a>.</p> <p>“And so we tried a few natural language processing tasks on it,” Soljačić says. “One that we tried was summarizing articles, and that seems to be working quite well.”</p> <p><strong>The proof is in the reading</strong></p> <p>As an example, they fed the same research paper through a conventional LSTM-based neural network and through their RUM-based system. The resulting summaries were dramatically different.</p> <p>The LSTM system yielded this highly repetitive and fairly technical summary: <em>“Baylisascariasis,” kills mice, has endangered the allegheny woodrat and has caused disease like blindness or severe consequences. This infection, termed “baylisascariasis,” kills mice, has endangered the allegheny woodrat and has caused disease like blindness or severe consequences. This infection, termed “baylisascariasis,” kills mice, has endangered the allegheny woodrat.</em></p> <p>Based on the same paper, the RUM system produced a much more readable summary, and one that did not include the needless repetition of phrases: <em>Urban raccoons may infect people more than previously assumed. 7 percent of surveyed individuals tested positive for raccoon roundworm antibodies. Over 90 percent of raccoons in Santa Barbara play host to this parasite.</em></p> <p>Already, the RUM-based system has been expanded so it can “read” through entire research papers, not just the abstracts, to produce a summary of their contents. The researchers have even tried using the system on their own research paper describing these findings — the paper that this news story is attempting to summarize.</p> <p>Here is the new neural network’s summary: <em>Researchers have developed a new representation process on the rotational unit of RUM, a recurrent memory that can be used to solve a broad spectrum of the neural revolution in natural language processing.</em></p> <p>It may not be elegant prose, but it does at least hit the key points of information.</p> <p>Çağlar Gülçehre, a research scientist at the British AI company Deepmind Technologies, who was not involved in this work, says this research tackles an important problem in neural networks, having to do with relating pieces of information that are widely separated in time or space. “This problem has been a very fundamental issue in AI due to the necessity to do reasoning over long time-delays in sequence-prediction tasks,” he says. “Although I do not think this paper completely solves this problem, it shows promising results on the long-term dependency tasks such as question-answering, text summarization, and associative recall.”</p> <p>Gülçehre adds, “Since the experiments conducted and model proposed in this paper are released as open-source on Github, as a result many researchers will be interested in trying it on their own tasks. … To be more specific, potentially the approach proposed in this paper can have very high impact on the fields of natural language processing and reinforcement learning, where the long-term dependencies are very crucial.”</p> <p>The research received support from the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the MIT-SenseTime Alliance on Artificial Intelligence, and the Semiconductor Research Corporation. The team also had help from the Science Daily website, whose articles were used in training some of the AI models in this research.</p> A team of scientists at MIT and elsewhere has developed a neural network, a form of artificial intelligence (AI), that can read scientific papers and render a plain-English summary in a sentence or two.Image: Chelsea TurnerResearch, Physics, Artifical intelligence, Machine learning, Language, Algorithms, Knight fellowship, Science writing, Science communications, Technology and society, National Science Foundation (NSF), School of Science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences MIT Program in Digital Humanities launches with $1.3 million Mellon Foundation grant http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-program-digital-humanities-launches-with-mellon-grant-0417 Among the program&#039;s offerings, the Digital Humanities Lab applies computational tools to humanistic research — and builds a community fluent in both languages. Wed, 17 Apr 2019 16:45:01 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-program-digital-humanities-launches-with-mellon-grant-0417 <p>Before computers, no sane person would have set out to count gender pronouns in 4,000 novels, but the results can be revealing, as MIT’s new digital humanities program recently discovered.</p> <p>Launched with a $1.3 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Program in Digital Humanities brings computation together with humanities research, with the goal of building a community “fluent in both languages,” says Michael Scott Cuthbert, associate professor of music, Music21 inventor, and director of digital humanities at MIT.</p> <p>“In the past, it has been somewhat rare, and extremely rare beyond MIT, for humanists to be fully equipped to frame questions in ways that are easy to put in computer science terms, and equally rare for computer scientists to be deeply educated in humanities research. There has been a communications gap,” Cuthbert says. “That's the genesis of this new approach to computation in humanities.”</p> <p><strong>Educating bilinguals: students fluent in the humanities and computation</strong></p> <p>While traditional digital humanities programs attempt to provide humanities scholars with some computational skills, the situation at MIT is different: Most MIT students already have or are learning basic programming skills, and all MIT undergraduates also take some humanities classes. Cuthbert believes this difference will make MIT’s program a great success.</p> <p>“What we have that's an amazing opportunity is a large number of people who love building things with computers and want to connect those to their interests and make an impact,” he says. “Our students very much want to change the world.”</p> <p>They can do that — even as first-year students — because humanities research has many open questions that can be solved with just six months or a year of programming skills, he says.</p> <p>“The wonderful thing we can do is implement a lot from scratch because we have the programming skills to do that,” says Stephan Risi, one of two postdocs who works in what the students informally call the “Digital Humanities Lab,” or “DH Lab” for short. This gives the MIT researchers more latitude to explore new questions as they arise. “We’re not bound by software others have produced.”<br /> &nbsp;<br /> <strong>A novel research project</strong></p> <p>To illustrate the kind of work the lab can do, the program enlisted a team of 24 students (mostly first-years) through the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) to study gender representation in 19th century English literature. The team assembled metadata, applied grammar-parsing tools, did web scraping, wrote analysis tools, and ultimately examined 4,217 books — a total of 326.9 million words.</p> <p>One interesting finding from the <a href="https://msmagazine.com/2019/04/05/decoding-sex-in-the-humanities-five-key-findings-from-mits-gender-novels-project/" target="_blank">"Gender/Novels" experiment</a> was that — regardless of the sex of the author and "no matter how we cut the data,” as Cuthbert says — roughly two-thirds of all male pronouns were in the subject position, whereas women were more often the object of the sentence. What these new data tell us — about men, women, and society — is up to human scholars to decide, but this project provides a window into the ways computational work can support humanities research.</p> <p><strong>Detecting research with high social value</strong></p> <p>This first project also illustrates the pedagogical benefits of working in the lab.</p> <p>“One of the interesting things about the lab is it's hard to sift through which ideas have merit,” says lab UROP and first-year student Dina Atia, contrasting the humanities research to her work in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. “Most STEM research is very fact-based but can lack important social takeaways.”</p> <p>Fellow UROP and first-year student Ifeoluwapo Ademolu-Odeneye says she enjoyed the opportunity to put her computer skills to work outside the classroom. “I have developed a lot as a computer scientist doing this,” she says, adding that she has also learned to apply critical thinking skills to make decisions about the humanities content. “At first, I asked Professor Cuthbert about everything. Later he threw questions back at us, which has been good for developing as a researcher myself.”</p> <p>First-year student Mayowa Songonuga, who just started her UROP in the lab this spring and is working on a new project — The History of Computing at MIT — agreed that the hands-on work is very valuable. “There is more to it than just the technology,” she says. “I haven't had the chance to research something like this before.”</p> <p><strong>The productive sw</strong><strong>erve in research</strong></p> <p>While the UROP students were designing algorithms and building a website, they also read and analyzed 19th century English literature and tackled questions such as how to teach the computer the difference between a novel and a travel log. The lab intentionally fosters this dual-stream process, Cuthbert says, because it provides rich opportunities to change the direction of research to follow some newly discovered path.</p> <p>This ability to make what Cuthbert calls “a productive swerve” is often critical to fruitful research, but has been hampered in the digital humanities to date because complex digital projects are too often done by computational experts at a remove from the humanities scholar.</p> <p><strong>Students collaborate with leading humanities scholars</strong></p> <p>To further entwine the disciplines, the program next plans to bring humanities faculty on board for joint projects with students. In 2019-20, associate professor of literature Sandy Alexandre and professor of political science Evan Lieberman will be devoting six hours a week to the lab, teaching students about their research while learning some computational methods themselves.</p> <p>An added benefit of this collaboration is that it should make the programming work less demanding, Cuthbert says, because creating a simple user interface can be extremely time-consuming. “We’re hoping the faculty will learn enough about the technical operation of their projects that we can devote more staff time to digging deeper,” he says.</p> <p><strong>Master class lectures by experts who combine humanities and tech</strong></p> <p>Beginning in 2020, the Program in Digital Humanities will reach out to the wider community — at MIT and in Cambridge and Boston. The plan, Cuthbert says, is to develop a lecture series based on the master class model. Outside experts who combine technology and the humanities in their profession will come to the lab to work with students and then give a public lecture.</p> <p>The overall goal, Cuthbert says, is to meet a target set by Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences: “to connect the great things going on in computation with the amazing things happening in MIT’s humanities, arts, and social science fields.”</p> <p>“We have an opportunity to create a love for humanities and an acknowledgement of the importance of humanistic research with the next generation of computer programmers,” Cuthbert says. “We are incredibly excited.”</p> <h5><em>Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Editorial and Design Director: Emily Hiestand<br /> Senior Writer: Kathryn O'Neill</em><br /> &nbsp;</h5> First-year students Ifeoluwapo Ademolu-Odeneye (left) and Keith Murray at work in the MIT Digital Humanities Lab. Photo: Jon SachsComputation, Digital humanities, Data, Faculty, Women's and Gender Studies, Humanities, Literature, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Classes and programs, Music, Diversity and inclusion Jump-starting the economy with science http://news.mit.edu/2019/public-investment-science-jump-starting-america-0417 In a new book, MIT professors say more public investment in science will create a better economy for all. Wed, 17 Apr 2019 09:42:08 -0400 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/public-investment-science-jump-starting-america-0417 <p>In 1988, the U.S. federal government created a $3 billion, 15-year project to sequence the human genome. Not only did the project advance science, it hit the economic jackpot: In 2012, human genome sequencing accounted for an estimated 280,000 jobs, $19 billion in personal income, $3.9 billion in federal taxes, and $2.1 billion in state and local taxes. And all for a price of $2 per year per U.S. resident.</p> <p>“It’s an incredible rate of return,” says MIT economist Simon Johnson.</p> <p>It’s not just genomics that pays off. Every additional $10 million in public funding granted to the National Institutes of Health, according to one MIT study, on average produces 2.7 patents and an additional $30 million in value for the private-sector firms that own those patents. When it comes to military technology, each dollar in publicly funded R&amp;D leads to another $2.50-$5.90 in private-sector investment.</p> <p>In general, “Public investment in science has very big economic returns,” says Johnson, who is the Ronald A. Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management.</p> <p>Yet after a surge in science funding spurred by World War II, the U.S. has lowered its relative level of public investment in research and development — from about 2 percent of GDP in 1964 to under half of that today.</p> <p>Reviving U.S. support of science and technology is one of the best ways we can generate economic growth, according to Johnson and his MIT economist colleague Jonathan Gruber, who is the Ford Professor of Economics in MIT’s Department of Economics. And now Johnson and Gruber make that case in a new book, “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream,” published this month by PublicAffairs press.</p> <p>In it, the two scholars contend that pumping up public investment in science would create not only overall growth but also better jobs throughout the economy, in an era when stagnating incomes have caused strain for a large swath of Americans.</p> <p>“Good jobs are for MIT graduates, but they’re also for people who don’t finish college. They’re for people who drop out of high school,” says Johnson. “There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety across the country.”</p> <p><strong>Hello, Columbus</strong></p> <p>Indeed, spurring growth across the country is a key theme of “Jump-Starting America.” Technology-based growth in the U.S. has been focused in a few “superstar” cities, where high-end tech jobs have been accompanied by increased congestion and sky-high housing prices, forcing out the less well-off.</p> <p>“The prosperity has been concentrated in some places where it’s become incredibly expensive to live and work,” Johnson says. That includes Silicon Valley, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, the Washington area, and the Boston metro area.</p> <p>And yet, Johnson and Gruber believe, the U.S. has scores of cities where the presence of universities combined with industrial know-how could produce more technology-based growth. Some already have: As the authors discuss in the book, Orlando, Florida, is a center for high-tech computer modeling and simulation, thanks to the convergence of federal investment, the growth of the University of Central Florida, and local backing of an adjacent research park that supports dozens of thriving enterprises.</p> <p>The Orlando case is “a modern version of what once made America the most prosperous nation on Earth,” the authors write, and they believe it can be replicated widely.</p> <p>“Let’s spread it around the country, to take advantage of where the talent is in the U.S., because there’s a lot of talent away from the coastal cities,” Johnson says.</p> <p>“Jump-Starting America” even contains a list of 102 metropolitan areas the authors think are ripe for investment and growth, thanks to well-educated work forces and affordability, among other factors. At the top of the list are Pittsburgh, Rochester, and three cities in Ohio: Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland.</p> <p>The authors’ list does not include any California cities — where affordability is generally a problem — but they view the ranking as a conversation-starter, not the last word on the subject. The book’s website has an <a href="https://www.jump-startingamerica.com/technology-hub-map">interactive feature</a> where readers can tweak the criteria used to rank cities, and see the results.</p> <p>“We’d like people to challenge us and say, maybe we should think of the criteria differently,” Johnson says. “Everyone should be thinking about what have we got in our region, what do we need to get, and what kind of investment would make the difference here.”</p> <p><strong>A dividend on your investment</strong></p> <p>“Jump-Starting America” has received praise from scholars and policy experts. Susan Athey, an economist at Stanford University, calls the book “brilliant” and says it “brings together economic history, urban economics, and the design of incentives to build an ambitious proposal” for growth. Jean Tirole, of the Toulouse School of Economics, says the book gives a boost to industrial policy, by showing “how the government can promote innovation while avoiding the classic pitfalls” of such interventions.</p> <p>For their part, Johnson and Gruber readily acknowledge that public investment in R&amp;D is just one component of long-term growth. Continued private-sector investment, they note, is vital as well. Still, the book does devote a chapter to the limits of private investment, including the short-term focus on returns that has led many firms to scale back their own R&amp;D operations.</p> <p>“We’re very pro-private sector,” Johnson says. “I’m a professor of entrepreneurship at Sloan, and I work a lot with entrepreneurs around the world and venture capitalists. They will tell you, quite frankly … their incentives are to make money relatively quickly, given their time horizons and what their investors want. As a result they are drawn to a few sectors, including information technology, and within that more software than hardware these days.”</p> <p>As a sweetener for any program of public science investment, the authors also suggest that people should receive a kind of annual innovation dividend — a return on their tax dollars. In effect, this would be a scaled-up version of the dividend that, for instance, Alaskans receive on that state’s energy revenues.</p> <p>That would be a departure from current U.S. policy, but ultimately, Johnson and Gruber say, a departure is what we need.</p> <p>“We don’t find the existing policies from anyone compelling,” Johnson says. “So we wanted to put some ideas out there and really start a debate about those alternatives, including a return to a bigger investment in science and technology.”</p> Jon Gruber and Simon JohnsonImage: M. Scott Brauer and MIT SloanEconomics, Business and management, innovation, Invention, Books and authors, Policy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Technology and society, History of science, Sloan School of Management, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Gulf Stream series wins Knight Science Journalism Program’s Inaugural Victor K. McElheny Award http://news.mit.edu/2019/gulf-stream-series-wins-ksj-victor-mcelheny-award-science-journalism-0318 Award honoring local and regional science journalism will go to a reporting team from the &lt;i&gt;Charleston Post and Courier.&lt;/i&gt; Mon, 18 Mar 2019 12:20:47 -0400 Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT http://news.mit.edu/2019/gulf-stream-series-wins-ksj-victor-mcelheny-award-science-journalism-0318 <p>The Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT has announced that the inaugural Victor K. McElheny Award for local and regional science journalism will go to a team of reporters from the <em>Charleston Post and Courier, </em>for an investigative series that shed light on a little-known impact of climate change and an overlooked risk of offshore drilling in the eastern U.S.</p> <p>The series featured a captivating piece by Tony Bartelme that took readers “into” the Gulf Stream, the powerful system of currents that carries warm tropical water up the U.S. East Coast to the Arctic. Weaving the story of a 1969 submarine expedition with the more recent story of an unexpected Gulf Stream slowdown, Bartelme expertly conveyed both the current’s might and its fragility in the face of climate change. In a data-driven companion piece, Bartelme and Emory Parker used more than 1,000 simulations to paint a startling picture of how the Gulf Stream could complicate efforts to contain spills from offshore drilling operations — a salient concern now that some lawmakers are pushing to open the East Coast to drilling. And in a mark of the team’s innovative approach to audience engagement, the series included an adult coloring book: “30 Days in the Gulf Stream,” designed by Bartelme and Chad Dunbar.</p> <p>“It was really well done and creative — an unexpected story told with great storytelling technique,” remarked a member of the judging panel. “The topic was fresh, and it had real impact.” National environmental groups described the team’s work as “stunning,” and the series helped energize the drilling debate ahead of South Carolina’s 2018 elections.</p> <p>In addition to the <em>Post and Courier</em> series, judges honored two other outstanding entries as finalists: <em>The Seattle Times</em> series Hostile Waters, a gut-wrenching story of how hunting, pollution, and other human activities have caused the population of Southern Resident Orcas in Puget Sound to dwindle toward extinction; and The Last Grove, a <em>Tampa Bay Times</em> feature that recounts the closing of Hillsborough County’s last commercial orange grove, a victim of Florida’s citrus greening epidemic. The three honorees rose to the top of a competitive field that included more than 100 entries from newspapers, magazines, and radio stations across the U.S.</p> <p>Named after the Knight Science Journalism Program’s founding director, the Victor K. McElheny Award was established to honor outstanding coverage of science, public health, technology, and environmental issues at the local and regional level. “The local newspaper and radio station are where many people get the news that matters to them the most, and sadly, a lot of good science reporting at these outlets goes unnoticed,” said Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program. “So it was really encouraging to see the quality, breadth, and depth of science coverage in this year’s entries — and to see that these stories are having real impacts in their communities.”</p> <p>The winning team from the <em>Post and Courier</em> will be honored at a luncheon ceremony at MIT’s Samberg Center on Wednesday, April 17.</p> <p>The McElheny Award is made possible by generous support from Victor K. McElheny, Ruth McElheny, and the Rita Allen Foundation. The award’s judges and screeners include Brian Bergstein (freelance journalist), Magnus Bjerg (TV 2, Denmark), Alicia Chang (Associated Press), Jason Dearen (Associated Press), Lisa De Bode (freelance journalist), Gideon Gil (STAT), Elana Gordon (WHYY), and Barbara Moran (WBUR).</p> <p><strong>2019 McElheny Award honorees</strong></p> <p>Winner:</p> <p><em>Charleston Post and Courier </em>(Tony Bartelme, Chad Dunbar, and J. Emory Parker)</p> <p>“<a href="https://www.postandcourier.com/news/special_reports/a-powerful-current-just-miles-from-sc-is-changing-it/article_7070df22-67fd-11e8-81ee-2fcab0fd4023.html" target="_blank">A powerful current just miles from SC is changing. It could devastate the East Coast.</a>”</p> <p>“<a href="https://www.postandcourier.com/news/special_reports/if-oil-spilled-off-sc-s-coast-a-huge-current/article_9e1e534c-9fce-11e8-887d-63b1602d3df9.html">If oil spilled off SC’s coast, a huge current would make it ‘impossible to control’</a>”</p> <p>“<a href="https://www.postandcourier.com/gulfstream/">A massive current off Charleston’s coast is changing</a>”</p> <p>Finalists:</p> <p><em>Seattle Times </em>(Lynda V. Mapes, Steve Ringman, Emily Eng, Lauren Frohne, and Ramon Dompor)</p> <p>“<a href="http://projects.seattletimes.com/2018/orcas-in-peril/">Hostile Waters</a>”</p> <p>“<a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/the-orca-and-the-orca-catcher-how-a-generation-of-killer-whales-was-taken-from-puget-sound/">The orca and the orca catcher: How a generation of killer whales was taken from Puget Sound</a>”</p> <p>“<a href="http://projects.seattletimes.com/2018/to-catch-an-orca/">To catch an orca</a>”</p> <p><em>Tampa Bay Times </em>(Lisa Gartner)</p> <p>“<a href="http://www.tampabay.com/data/2018/05/23/florida-scientists-are-working-to-solve-greening-they-were-too-late-for-cee-bees/">Florida scientists are working to solve greening. They were too late for Cee Bee’s.</a>”</p> <p>The Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, founded more than 30 years ago, seeks to nurture and enhance the ability of journalists from around the world to accurately document and illuminate the often complex intersection of science, technology and human culture. It does so through an acclaimed fellowship program — which hosts 10 or more journalists every academic year — and also through science-focused seminars, skills-focused master classes, workshops, and publications.</p> <p>Since it began, the program has hosted more than 300 fellows, who continue to cover science across a range of platforms in the United States, including <em>The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Time, Scientific American, Science,</em> the Associated Press, and broadcast outlets ranging from ABC News to CNN, as well as in numerous other countries.</p> Tony Bartelme and his colleagues at the Charleston Post and Courier will receive the 2019 Victor K. McElheny Award for their reporting on the Gulf Stream.Awards, honors and fellowships, Knight fellowship, Program in STS, Technology and society, Science journalism, Science writing, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Ethics, computing, and AI: Perspectives from MIT http://news.mit.edu/2019/ethics-computing-and-ai-perspectives-mit-0318 Faculty representing all five MIT schools offer views on the ethical and societal implications of new technologies. Mon, 18 Mar 2019 10:24:42 -0400 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/ethics-computing-and-ai-perspectives-mit-0318 <p><em>The MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing will reorient the Institute to bring the power of computing and artificial intelligence to all fields at MIT; allow the future of computing and AI to be shaped by all MIT disciplines; and advance research and education in ethics and public policy to help ensure that new technologies benefit the greater good.</em></p> <p><em>To support ongoing planning for the new college, School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences Dean Melissa Nobles invited faculty from all five MIT schools to offer perspectives on the societal and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies. This <a href="http://shass.mit.edu/aiethics">series</a> presents the resulting commentaries — practical, inspiring, concerned, and clear-eyed views from an optimistic community deeply engaged with issues that are among the most consequential of our time.&nbsp;</em></p> <p><em>The commentaries represent diverse branches of knowledge, but they sound some common themes, including: the vision of an MIT culture in which all of us are equipped and encouraged to discern the impact and ethical implications of our endeavors.</em></p> <p>FOREWORD<br /> <strong>Ethics, Computing, and AI &nbsp;</strong><br /> Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and professor of political science<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"These commentaries, representing faculty from all five MIT schools, implore us to be collaborative, foresighted, and courageous as we shape a new college — and to proceed with judicious humility. Rightly so. We are embarking on an endeavor that will influence nearly every aspect of the human future." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-foreword-melissa-nobles">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p>INTRODUCTION<br /> <strong>The Tools of Moral Philosophy </strong><br /> Caspar Hare, professor of philosophy<br /> Kieran Setiya, professor of philosophy<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We face ethical questions every day. Philosophy does not provide easy answers for these questions, nor even fail-safe techniques for resolving them. What it does provide is a disciplined way to think about ethical questions, to identify hidden moral assumptions, and to establish principles by which our actions may be guided and judged. Framing a discussion of the risks of advanced technology entirely in terms of ethics suggests that the problems raised are ones that can and should be solved by individual action. In fact, many of the challenges presented by computer science will prove difficult to address without systemic change.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Moral philosophers can serve both as teachers in the new College and as advisers/consultants on project teams. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-tools-moral-philosophy-kieran-setiya-and-caspar-hare">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p>WELCOMING REMARKS<br /> <strong>A New Kind of Education </strong><br /> Susan Silbey, chair of the MIT faculty<br /> Celebration for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing<br /> 28 February 2018</p> <p>"The college of computing will be dedicated to educating a different kind of technologist. We hope to integrate computing with just about every other subject at MIT so that students leave here with the knowledge and resources to be wiser, more ethically and technologically competent citizens and professionals." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-susan-silbey-hello-world-welcoming-remarks">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Part I: A Human Endeavor<br /> <em>Computing is embedded in cultural, economic, and political realities.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>Computing is Deeply Human</strong><br /> Stefan Helmreich, Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology<br /> Heather Paxson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"Computing is a human practice that entails judgment and is embedded in politics. Computing is not an external force that has an impact on society; instead, society — institutional structures that organize systems of social norms —&nbsp;is built right into&nbsp;making, programming, and using computers."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: The computational is political; MIT can make that recognition one of the pillars of computing and AI research. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-computing-deeply-human-helmreich-and-paxson">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>When Computer Programs Become Unpredictable </strong><br /> John Guttag, Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>“We should look forward to the many good things machine-learning will bring to society. But we should also insist that technologists study the risks and clearly explain them. And society as whole should take responsibility for understanding the risks and for making human-centric choices about how best to use this ever-evolving technology.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Develop platforms that enable a wide spectrum of society to engage with the societal and ethical issues of new technology. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-when-programs-become-unpredictable-john-guttag">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Safeguarding Humanity in the Age of AI</strong><br /> Bernhardt Trout, Raymond F. Baddour Professor of Chemical Engineering<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>"There seem to be two possibilities for how AI will turn out. In the first, AI will do what it is on track to do: slowly take over every human discipline. The second possibility is that we take the existential threat of AI with the utmost seriousness and completely change our approach. This means redirecting our thinking from a blind belief in efficiency to a considered understanding of what is most important about human life." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-series-safeguarding-humanity-age-ai-bernhardt-trout">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong><strong>Action</strong>: </strong>Develop a curriculum that encourages us to reflect deeply on fundamental questions: What is justice? How ought I to live?</p> <p><strong>II. COMMUNITY INSIGHTS<br /> <em>Shaping ethical technology is a collective responsibility.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>The Common Ground of Stories</strong><br /> Mary Fuller, professor of literature, and head of the MIT Literature section<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Science</p> <p>“Stories are things in themselves, and they are also things to think with. Stories allow us to model interpretive, affective, ethical choices; they also become common ground. Reading about Milton’s angelic intelligences or William Gibson’s “bright lattices of logic” won’t tell us what we should do with the future, but reading such stories at MIT may offer a conceptual meeting place to think together across the diversity of what and how we know."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Create residencies for global storytellers in the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-common-ground-stories-mary-fuller">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Who's Calling the Shots with AI?</strong><br /> Leigh Hafrey, senior lecturer of leadership and ethics<br /> MIT Sloan School of Management</p> <p>"'Efficiency' is a perennial business value and a constant factor in corporate design, strategy, and execution. But in a world where the exercise of social control by larger entities is real, developments in artificial intelligence have yet to yield the ethics by which we might manage their effects. The integrity of our vision for the future depends on our learning from the past and celebrating the fact that people, not artifacts and institutions, set our rules of engagement."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Adopt a full-on stakeholder view of business in society and the individual in business. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-whos-calling-shots-data-and-ai-leigh-hafrey">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>In Praise of Wetware </strong><br /> Caroline A. Jones, professor of art history<br /> School of Architecture and Planning</p> <p>“As we enshrine computation as the core of smartness, we would be well advised to think of the complexity of our ‘wet’ cognition, which entails a much more distributed notion of intelligence that goes well beyond the sacred cranium and may not even be bounded by our own skin.”</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Before claiming that it is "intelligence" we've produced in machines or modeled in computation, we should better understand the adaptive, responsive human wetware — and its dependence on a larger living ecosystem. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-praise-wetware-caroline-jones">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Blind Spots</strong><br /> David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, and professor of physics<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and Department of Physics</p> <p>“MIT has a powerful opportunity to lead in the development of new technologies while also leading careful, deliberate, broad-ranging, and ongoing community discussions about the “whys” and 'what ifs,' not just the 'hows.' No group of researchers, flushed with the excitement of learning and building something new, can overcome the limitations of blind spots and momentum alone."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Create ongoing forums for brainstorming and debate; we will benefit from engaging as many stakeholders as possible. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-blind-spots-david-kaiser">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Assessing the Impact of AI on Society</strong><br /> Lisa Parks, professor of comparative media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>“Three fundamental societal challenges have emerged from the use of AI, particularly for data collection and machine learning. The first challenge centers on this question: Who has the power to know about how AI tools work, and who does not? A second challenge involves learning how AI tools intersect with international relations and the dynamics of globalization. Beyond questions of knowledge, power, and globalization, it is important to consider the relationship between AI and social justice."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Conduct a political, economic, and materialist analysis of the relationship of AI technology to global trade, governance, natural environments, and culture. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-ais-impact-society-lisa-parks">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Clues and Caution for AI from the History of Biomedicine </strong><br /> Robin Wolfe Scheffler, Leo Marx Career Development Professor in the History and Culture of Science and Technology<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"The use of AI in the biomedical fields today deepens longstanding questions raised by the past intractability of biology and medicine to computation, and by the flawed assumptions that were adopted in attempting to make them so. The history of these efforts underlines two major points: 'Quantification is a process of judgment and evaluation, not simple measurement' and 'Prediction is not destiny.'"</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: First, understand the nature of the problems we want to solve — which include issues not solvable by technical innovation alone. Let that knowledge guide new AI and technology projects. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-clues-and-caution-ai-history-biomedicine-robin-scheffler">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>The Environment for Ethical Action</strong><br /> T.L. Taylor, professor of comparative media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We can cultivate our students as ethical thinkers but if they aren’t working in (or studying in) structures that support advocacy, interventions, and pushing back on proposed processes, they will be stymied. Ethical considerations must include a sociological model that focuses on processes, policies, and structures and not simply individual actors."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Place a commitment to social justice at the heart of the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-environment-ethical-action-tl-taylor">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Biological Intelligence and AI</strong><br /> Matthew A. Wilson, Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neuroscience<br /> School of Science and the Picower Institute</p> <p>"An understanding of biological intelligence is relevant to the development of AI, and the effort to develop artificial general intelligence (AGI) magnifies its significance. AGIs will be expected to conform to standards of behavior...Should we hold AIs to the same standards as the average human? Or will we expect AIs to perform at the level of an ideal human?"</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Conduct research on how innate morality arises in human intelligence, as an important step toward incorporating such a capacity into artificial intelligences. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-biological-intelligence-and-ai-matthew-wilson">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Machine Anxiety </strong><br /> Bernardo Zacka, assistant professor of political science<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"To someone who studies bureaucracy, the anxieties surrounding AI have an eerily familiar ring. So too does the excitement. For much of the 20th century, bureaucracies were thought to be intelligent machines. As we examine the ethical and political implications of AI, there are at least two insights to draw from bureaucracy's history: That it is worth studying our anxieties whether or not they are realistic; and that in doing so we should not write off human agency."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: When societies undergo deep transformations, envisioning a future that is both hopeful and inclusive is a task that requires moral imagination, empathy, and solidarity. We can study the success of societies that have faced such challenges well. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-machine-anxiety-bernardo-zacka">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Part III: A Structure for Collaboration</strong><br /> <strong><em>Thinking together is powerful.</em></strong></p> <p><strong>Bilinguals and Blending </strong><br /> Hal Abelson, Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science<br /> School of Engineering</p> <p>"When we study society today, we can no longer separate humanities — the study of what’s human — from computing. So, while there’s discussion under way about building bridges between computing and the humanities, arts, and social sciences, what the College of Computing needs is blending, not bridging. MIT’s guideline should be President Reif’s goal to 'educate the bilinguals of the future' —experts in many fields who are also skilled in modern computing."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Develop approaches for joint research and joint teaching. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-blending-and-bilinguals-hal-abelson">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>A Dream of Computing</strong><br /> Fox Harrell, professor of digital media and artificial intelligence<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory</p> <p>"There are numerous perspectives on what computing is: some people focus on theoretical underpinnings, others on implementation, others still on social or environmental impacts. These perspectives are unified by shared characteristics, including some less commonly noted: computing can involve great beauty and creativity."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: "We must reimagine our shared dreams for computing technologies as ones where their potential social and cultural impacts are considered intrinsic to the engineering practices of inventing them." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-dream-computing-d-fox-harrell">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>A Network of Practitioners </strong><br /> Nick Montfort, professor of media studies<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"Computing is not a single discipline or even a set of disciplines; it is a practice. The new college presents an opportunity for many practitioners of computing at MIT."</p> <p><strong>Action</strong>: Build a robust network with many relevant types of connections, not all of them through a single core. <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-and-ai-network-practitioners-nick-montfort">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Two Commentaries </strong><br /> Susan Silbey, chair of the MIT Faculty; Goldberg Professor of Humanities, professor of sociology and anthropology; and professor of behavioral and policy sciences<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and MIT Sloan School of Management</p> <p>How Not To Teach Ethics: "Rather than thinking about ethics as a series of anecdotal instances of problematic choice-making, we might think about ethics as participation in a moral culture, and then ask how that culture supports or challenges ethical behavior."</p> <p>Forming the College:&nbsp; "The Stephen A. Schwarzman College is envisioned to be the nexus connecting those who advance computer science, those who use computational tools in specific subject fields, and those who analyze and write about digital worlds." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethics-ai-and-computing-designing-new-college-susan-silbey">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><strong>Ethical AI by Design </strong><br /> Abby Everett Jaques, postdoc in philosophy<br /> School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences</p> <p>"We are teaching an ethical protocol, a step-by-step process that students can use for their own projects. In this age of self-driving cars and machine learning, the questions&nbsp;feel&nbsp;new, but in many ways they’re not. Philosophy offers powerful tools to help us answer them." <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-ethical-ai-design-interview-abby-everett-jaques">Read more &gt;&gt;</a></p> <p><em>Series prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Office of the Dean, MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences<br /> Series Editors: Emily Hiestand, Kathryn O'Neill</em></p> Image: MIT News OfficeSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, School of Engineering, School of Science, MIT Sloan School of Management, School of Architecture and Planning, Biology, Chemical engineering, Anthropology, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Literature, Philosophy, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), Physics, Management, MIT Schwarzman College of Computing, Technology and society, Artifical intelligence, Machine learning, Ethics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Political science Spenser’s &quot;Faerie Queene&quot; as a modern visual comic http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-ivy-li-translates-faerie-queene-into-modern-visual-comic-0307 Junior Ivy Li, a literature and physics major, adapts a legendary work and innovates in an enduring literary tradition. Thu, 07 Mar 2019 11:45:00 -0500 School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences http://news.mit.edu/2019/mit-ivy-li-translates-faerie-queene-into-modern-visual-comic-0307 <p>Adapting a story — from page to screen, or from biography to fiction — is a precarious process, as a narrative is reinvented in the translation from one medium to another,&nbsp;often&nbsp;radically different medium from the original.<br /> <br /> Junior Ivy Li, a double major in literature and physics, navigated a particularly gnarly adaptation process recently while studying one of the legendary works of English literature. &nbsp;</p> <p>Edmund Spenser’s "The Faerie Queene" is a phantasmagoric adventure, a 16th century epic poem by a contemporary of Shakespeare. It’s also immense, stretching over six books of challenging material. In course 21L.705 (Major Authors: Avatars, Allegory, and&nbsp;Apocalypse in Spenser’s "Faerie Queene")&nbsp;MIT students wrangle with understanding, and ultimately transforming, this monumental work.<br /> <br /> Professor Mary Fuller, who teaches 21L.705 and heads the MIT Literature section, explains the historical background for her students’ 21st century creative engagements with "The Faerie Queene": “From 1596 on, Spenser’s readers have been interacting with the poem to produce new paratextual material: tools to navigate and understand the text, adaptation in other genres and media, additions to a work that is both massive and notoriously unfinished.”<br /> <br /> This tradition of “active reading,” which both elucidates and expands a story, is the basis of Fuller’s course; her students work to contextualize Spenser’s many-layered narrative. Written at the dawn of a nascent British Empire struggling to find its national identity, the text is a successor to medieval chivalric romance, and has since seen sprawling use in fantasy genres and modern allegory. It’s a famously meandering story rife with knightly quests, flexible gender roles, sharp comedy, and political argument.<br /> <br /> Li says Spenser’s epic poem&nbsp;“is essentially an alternate-universe fan fiction,” the story of King Arthur “before he was king: a virtuous man is destined for glory, but he needs to wander a bit first.”</p> <p>Each week, the students in Fuller’s class plot the roaming, narrative arc of the poem, visually storyboarding and mapping the movement of characters and events through the story’s six books. The coursework includes research presentations and analytical writing, alongside what the syllabus calls “a modest amount of creative work.”<br /> <br /> Li took that creative charge above and beyond. Pouring 70 hours of work into the creative final project over “a two-week drawing binge,” Li produced a detailed, stylized, and striking <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-picturing-faerie-queene" target="_blank">visual comic adaption</a> of a particularly difficult portion of The Faerie Queene’s fourth book.&nbsp;<br /> <br /> “Using roughly a tenth as many words as the original,” writes Professor Fuller, “[Li’s adaptation] makes shapely narrative from a part of the poem that used to be considered incoherent and obscure. Ivy also makes sure you get the jokes.”<br /> <br /> For Li, the study of both literature and physics is based in a deep aesthetic appreciation of the universe and the human condition.</p> <p>“Physics and literature both search for explanations to the universe around us,” writes Li, “one through mathematics and experimentation, the other, through words. The fact that there's some fundamental truth that can be explained through human language is incredible to me.”<br /> <br /> Participating in the MIT Arts Scholars program, and serving as an arts editor for <em>The Tech,</em> MIT's student newspaper, have also provided Li opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the literary and visual arts, including the comic medium which Li has long admired for its malleable, interdisciplinary nature.<br /> <br /> “Since childhood, I’ve been passionate about comics because they tell rich stories by blending elements of different media,” Li says.&nbsp;“Requiring the skills of a playwright and a cinematographer, the comic book medium sits snugly at the intersection between text and visual art.”<br /> <br /> Li began honing that skill as a first-year student, jumping at the opportunity to take 21W.744 (The Sweet Art of Comic Book Writing),&nbsp;taught by acclaimed author Marjorie Liu. The class — technically a specialized genre fiction workshop — takes students on a survey of a wide variety of comics, from indie web comics to big corporate print titles.<br /> <br /> During that far-ranging sampler, students explore&nbsp;questions of gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality in narrative, and have a chance to create their own short scripts and comic book stories. Liu, the first woman to win the Eisner Award for Best Writer, the comic industry’s top writing prize, is the writer behind Black Widow, Astonishing X-Men, and most recently Monstress.<br /> <br /> The Faerie Queene adaptation project provided the next creative frontier for Li: “At MIT, I have done some illustration and comic strip work for <em>The Tech, </em>but I had never before worked on something of this length and scale. I was excited yet nervous for my first full-page comic project.”<br /> <br /> Li studied, drafted, and experimented with layouts and character designs, working from reference images of horses and knights as well as human anatomy. The project was still in full swing when the class deadline brought it to a close. Even after Li put down the fountain pen, however, the mental revising and improving continued.<br /> <br /> “Creative work enriches my literature experience,” Li reflected, several weeks after finishing the massive endeavor, “bringing me greater insight into a work’s meaning. The magic of adaption is that interpreting a work through another medium sheds an interesting new perspective while maintaining the integrity of the original.”</p> <p>Ivy Li's complete adaptation from the fourth book of Edmund Spenser's "The Faerie Queene" is available as&nbsp;an <a href="https://shass.mit.edu/news/news-2019-picturing-faerie-queene" target="_blank">online digital book</a>, accompanied by commentaries from Li and Mary Fuller.&nbsp;</p> <p><em><span style="font-size:12px;">Story prepared by MIT SHASS Communications<br /> Emily Hiestand, editorial director<br /> Alison Lanier, senior communications associate </span></em></p> For Li, the study of both literature and physics is based in a deep aesthetic appreciation of the universe and the human condition. “Physics and literature both search for explanations to the universe around us, one through mathematics and experimentation, the other, through words. The fact that there's some fundamental truth that can be explained through human language is incredible to me.”Photo: Jon SachsSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Comparative Media Studies/Writing, Literature, Physics, Students, Books and authors, Arts, School of Science Learning to study a painful past http://news.mit.edu/2019/faculty-lerna-ekmekcioglu-0307 Lerna Ekmekçioğlu studies pioneering Armenian women of the 19th and 20th centuries — and helps other scholars enter her field. Thu, 07 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/faculty-lerna-ekmekcioglu-0307 <p>If you ask MIT Associate Professor Lerna Ekmekçioğlu how she wound up in academia, she has a straightforward answer.</p> <p>“I was born a historian,” Ekmekçioğlu says. “It was my destiny.”</p> <p>That natural affinity for history has propelled her through the ranks of academia, as a pioneering scholar of Armenians in Turkey, including Armenian women. Her specialty is a complex topic involving a historical catastrophe: the role of women in society after the 1915 Armenian genocide.</p> <p>More specifically, Ekmekçioğlu studies how Armenian women helped keep their community intact, even while transforming it by introducing feminist ideas. Her best-known book, “Recovering Armenia: The Limits of Belonging in Post-Genocide Turkey,” published in 2016 by Stanford University Press, reconstructs the life of the community of survivors, including its feminist voices, in the first decades after World War I.</p> <p>Ekmekçioğlu’s basic interest in this subject is not hard to account for. She grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, as part of the small Armenian community remaining there over the decades. In this sense, Ekmekçioğlu really was born to be an Armenian historian. Understanding the world she grew up in meant understanding its past.</p> <p>“I always had a curiosity about Armenian history,” Ekmekçioğlu notes. Still, it is a big leap from personal curiosity to a sustained career. And, as she recounts it, “I did not have any role models, really,” in academia, because there was so little work about what she wanted to study.</p> <p>For this reason, Ekmekçioğlu’s career has two layers. One is her research and teaching — for which Ekmekçioğlu was awarded tenure at MIT last year.</p> <p>The other is the extensive effort she has made to disseminate Armenian history to other students. Ekmekçioğlu is currently working on multiple projects at MIT to make Armenian historical materials widely available, and thus to create conditions in which today’s students and future researchers and historians can readily study the subject.</p> <p>“I almost feel it as a responsibility,” Ekmekçioğlu says. “I see this as a public service.”</p> <p>To see why this matters to Ekmekçioğlu, consider the circumstances in which she first started studying Armenian history and Armenian feminism, as an undergraduate at Bogazici University in Istanbul. The basic problem Ekmekçioğlu encountered: There weren’t established courses about Armenians, let alone Armenian women, at the university. Teaching Armenian history, to this day, remains a punishable crime in Turkey.</p> <p>So Ekmekçioğlu and a few other students founded reading groups to study Armenian history and share information about written sources and materials that pertained to Armenian women. Together, a few of them entered a research paper competition, for all fields of history‚ and finished third.</p> <p>That was enough to help Ekmekçioğlu and her friends gain more support from professors, who encouraged them to keep pursuing the subject. And they have: One of Ekmekçioğlu’s undergraduate friends was Melissa Bilal, now a faculty member at the American University of Armenia, in Yerevan, Armenia, with whom Ekmekçioğlu still collaborates on research and pedagogical projects.</p> <p>As an undergraduate, Ekmekçioğlu also spent a year abroad at the University of Athens before graduating from Bogazici University in 2002. She then attended New York University as a graduate student, receiving her MA in 2004 and her PhD in 2010. After a year as a postdoc at the University of Michigan, Ekmekçioğlu joined the MIT faculty in 2011. Today she is the McMillan-Stewart Associate Professor of History at the Institute, and is affiliated with MIT’s Women’s and Gender Studies program and the Center for International Studies.</p> <p>Ekmekçioğlu’s work examines a psychological and social strain at the heart of the lives of many Armenian women. After a shocking, traumatic human catastrophe, they were simultaneously trying to push their society forward, by developing new norms and rights for women, while also trying to hold their fractured community together by maintaining the cultural traditions of the past.</p> <p>“By definition, they had to change,” Ekmekçioğlu says. “But that goal is in tension with maintaining Armenian tradition.”</p> <p>In her book, Ekmekçioğlu’s work cleverly draws on written sources, such as an overlooked Armenian magazine called <em>Hay Gin</em>, to draw out the thoughts of the women she studies. More broadly, she has collaborated with Bilal to both publish and analyze an array of original-source documents about Armenian women, ranging in time from the 1860s to the 1960s.</p> <p>When Ekmekçioğlu was still in graduate school, she and Bilal co-edited the first such volume on the subject, published in Istanbul in 2006 and translated as, “A Cry for Justice: Five Armenian Feminist Writers from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic.” Today, she and Bilal are working on a more comprehensive volume for publication, to be published in English as well as the original languages, with the working project title, “Feminism in Armenian: An Interpretive Anthology and Digital Archive.”</p> <p>One component of this will be a volume combining original primary-source writings and scholarly essays, meant to make the ideas of Armenians a more easily accessible part of mainstream women’s history, and intended for classroom use.</p> <p>Moreover, as the title suggests, Ekmekçioğlu and Bilal are working on a digital component of the project, which is intended to be the most comprehensive set of source materials on the subject yet in existence. She credits MIT as one of the institutions that has made this kind of project possible; she also recently received a Mellon Faculty Grant of the Center for Art, Science, and Technology, for a related public exhibition on the subject.</p> <p>“There is a lot of curation involved in this,” Ekmekciouglu says. “I’ve had a lot of support at MIT.”</p> <p>While Ekmekçioğlu is a leading historian of the early Turkish Republic in general, &nbsp;most of her work has come with the clear purpose of calling attention to overlooked women who, in exceedingly difficult times, sought to keep their society alive.</p> <p>“It’s only fair to those women who worked so hard, to do that,” Ekemkcioglu says.</p> Lerna EkmekciogluImage: Scott BrauerSchool of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, History, Humanities, Center for International Studies, Profile, Faculty, Women, Books and authors Chernobyl: How bad was it? http://news.mit.edu/2019/chernobyl-manual-for-survival-book-0306 A scholar’s book uncovers new material about the effects of the infamous nuclear meltdown. Tue, 05 Mar 2019 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/chernobyl-manual-for-survival-book-0306 <p>Not long after midnight on April 26, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear power accident began. Workers were conducting a test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine when their operations spun out of control. Unthinkably, the core of the plant’s reactor No. 4 exploded, first blowing off its giant concrete lid, then letting a massive stream of radiation into the air.</p> <p>Notoriously, the Soviet Union kept news of the disaster quiet for a couple of days. By the time the outside world knew about it, 148 men who had been on the Chernobyl site — firefighters and other workers — were already being treated in the special radiation unit of a Moscow hospital. And that was just one sliver of the population that wound up seeking medical care after Chernobyl.&nbsp;</p> <p>By the end of the summer of 1986, Moscow hospitals alone had treated about 15,000 people exposed to Chernobyl radiation. The Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belarus combined to treat about 40,000 patients in hospitals due to radiation exposure in the same period of time; in Belarus, about half were children.</p> <p>And while 120,000 residents were hastily evacuated from the “Zone of Alienation” around Chernobyl, about 600,000 emergency workers eventually went into the area, trying to seal the reactor and make the area safe again. About 31,000 soldiers camped out near the reactor, where radioactivity reached about 1,000 times the normal levels within a week, and contaminated the drinking water.</p> <p>Which leads to the question: How bad was Chernobyl? A 2006 United Nations report contends Chernobyl caused 54 deaths. But MIT Professor Kate Brown, for one, is skeptical about that figure. As a historian of science who has written extensively about both the Soviet Union and nuclear technology, she decided to explore the issue at length.</p> <p>The result is her new book, “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future,” published this month by W.W. Norton and Co. In it, Brown brings new research to bear on the issue: She is the first historian to examine certain regional archives where the medical response to Chernobyl was most extensively chronicled, and has found reports and documents casting new light on the story.</p> <p>Brown does not pinpoint a death-toll number herself. Instead, through her archival research and on-the-ground reporting, she examines the full range of ways radiation has affected residents throughout the region, while explaining how Soviet politics helped limit our knowledge of the incident.</p> <p>“I wrote this book so it’s something we take a look at more seriously,” says Brown, a professor in MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society.</p> <p><strong>Lying to themselves </strong></p> <p>To see how the effects of Chernobyl could be much more widespread than previously acknowledged, consider a pattern Brown observed from her archival work: Scientists and officials at the local and regional levels examined the effects of Chernobyl on people quite extensively, even performing controlled studies and other robust techniques, but other Soviet officials minimized the evidence of major health consequences.</p> <p>“Part of the problem is the Soviets lied to themselves,” says Brown. “On the ground it [the impact] was very clear, but at higher levels, there were ministers whose job was to report good health.” Soviet officials, Brown adds, would “massage the numbers” as the data ascended in the state bureaucracy.</p> <p>“Everybody was making the record look better by the time it go to Moscow,” Brown says. “And I can show that.”</p> <p>Then too, the effects of Chernobyl’s radiation have been diffuse. As Brown discovered, 298 workers at a wool factory in the city of Chernihiv, about 50 miles from Chernobyl, were given “liquidator status” due to their health problems. This is the same designation applied to emergency personnel working at the Chernobyl site itself.</p> <p>Why were the wool workers so exposed to radiation? As Brown found after investigating the Chernihiv wool factory itself, Soviet authorities had workers kill livestock from the Zone of Alienation — and then send their useable parts for processing. The wool factory workers had become sick because they were dealing with wool from highly contaminated sheep. Such scenarios may have been significantly overlooked in some Chernobyl assessments.</p> <p>A significant section of “Manual for Survival” — the title comes from some safety instructions written for local residents — also explores the accident’s effects on the region’s agricultural economy. In Belarus, one-third of milk and one-fifth of meat was too contaminated to use in 1987, according to the official in charge of food production in the state, and levels became worse the following year. At the same time, in the Ukraine, between 30 and 90 percent of milk in “clean” areas was judged too contaminated to drink.</p> <p>As part of her efforts to study Chernobyl’s effects in person, Brown also ventured into the forests and marshes near Chernobyl, accompanying American and Finnish scientists &nbsp;— who are among the few to have extensively studied the area’s wildlife in the field. They have found, among other things, the decimation of parts of the ecosystem, including dramatically fewer pollinators (such as bees) in higher-radiation places, and thus radically reduced numbers of fruit trees and shrubs. Brown also directly addresses scientific disagreements over such findings, while noting that some of the most negative conclusions about the regional ecosystems have stemmed from extensive on-the-ground investigations of it.</p> <p>Additionally, disputes over the effects of Chernobyl also rumble on because, as Brown acknowledges, it is “easy to deny” that any one occurence of cancer is due to radiation exposure. As Brown notes in the book, “a correlation does not prove a connection,” despite increased rates of cancer and other illnesses in the region.</p> <p>Still, in “Manual for Survival,” Brown does suggest that the higher end of existing death estimates seems plausible. The Ukrainian state pays benefits to about 35,000 people whose spouses apparently died from Chernobyl-caused illnesses. Some scientists have told her they think 150,000 deaths is a more likely baseline for the Ukraine alone. (There are no official or unofficial counts for Belarus and western Russia.)</p> <p><strong>Chernobyl: This past isn’t even past</strong></p> <p>Due to the long-term nature of some forms of radiation, Chernobyl’s effects continue today — to an extent that is also under-studied. In the book’s epilogue, Brown visits a forest in the Ukraine where people pick blueberries for export, with each batch being tested for radiation. However, Brown observed, bundles of blueberries over the accepted radiation limit are not necessarily discarded. Instead, berries from those lots are mixed in with cleaner blueberries, so each remixed batch as a whole falls under the regulatory limit. People outside the Ukraine, she writes, “may wake to a breakfast of Chernobyl blueberries” without knowing it. &nbsp;</p> <p>Brown emphasizes that her goal is not primarily to alarm readers, but to push research forward. She says she would like her audience — general readers, undergraduates, scientists — to think deeply about how apparently settled science may sometimes rely on contingent conclusions developed in particular political circumstances.</p> <p>“I would like scientists to know a bit more about the history behind the science,” Brown says.</p> <p>Other scholars say “Manual for Survival” is an important contribution to our understanding of Chernobyl. J.R. McNeill, a historian at Georgetown University, says Brown has shed new light on Chernobyl by illuminating “decades of official efforts to suppress its grim truths.” Alison MacFarlane, director of the Institute for International Science and Technology Policy at George Washington University, and Former director of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says the book effectively “uncovers the devastating effects” of Chernobyl.</p> <p>For her part, Brown says one additional aim in writing the book was to help us remind ourselves that our inventions and devices are fallible. We need to be vigilant to avoid future disasters along the lines of Chernobyl.</p> <p>“I think it could be a guide to the future if we’re not a little bit more thoughtful, and a little more transparent” than the Soviet officials were, Brown says.</p> Kate Brown, author of “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future.”Courtesy of Kate BrownHistory, Faculty, Research, Books and authors, Energy, Technology and society, Program in STS, Nuclear power and reactors, History of science, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Undark magazine wins George Polk Award for environmental reporting http://news.mit.edu/2019/undark-magazine-wins-george-polk-award-environmental-reporting-0225 Coveted prize, considered among the most prestigious in journalism, was awarded for a global series on air pollution. Mon, 25 Feb 2019 14:40:09 -0500 Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT http://news.mit.edu/2019/undark-magazine-wins-george-polk-award-environmental-reporting-0225 <p>In only its third year of existence, <em><a href="http://undark.org/">Undark</a> </em>magazine<em>,</em> a digital publication of the&nbsp;<a href="http://ksj.mit.edu/">Knight Science Journalism Fellowship Program at MIT</a> (KSJ), has been awarded a prestigious George Polk Award. The prize, announced at the National Press Club in Washington on Feb. 19, recognized the work of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Larry C. Price and contributing <em>Undark</em> reporters for a seven-part series on global air pollution, published between August and December 2018, called "<a href="http://undark.org/breathtaking">Breathtaking</a>."&nbsp;</p> <p>Conceived and orchestrated by Undark's editorial team and supported in part by the <a href="https://pulitzercenter.org/">Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting</a>, the Breathtaking project visited seven countries on five continents to document —&nbsp;in text, <a href="https://vimeo.com/307093340">drone footage</a>, <a href="https://undark.org/article/air-pollution-shijiazhuang/">still photography</a>, and innovative <a href="https://undark.org/article/air-pollution-shijiazhuang/">360-degree video</a> —&nbsp;the impacts of fine particulate air pollution, also called PM2.5. Such pollution claims more than 4 million lives annually.</p> <p>"It's a topic that impacts virtually everyone to some degree, and yet it is far too often overlooked," said Undark's editor in chief, Tom Zeller Jr., a former <em>New York Times</em> staff writer and editor and a 2013-'14 MIT research fellow with KSJ. "We're delighted that the Polk committee has recognized Larry's work and that of our entire team —&nbsp;and we hope that this award will bring more awareness to this pressing issue."</p> <p>The George Polk Awards, established in 1949 in memory of CBS correspondent George Polk, who was murdered while covering the Greek Civil War, are conferred annually by New York's Long Island University. They are considered to be among the most prestigious in journalism.</p> <p>In addition to Price and <em>Undark, </em>the Polk committee granted prizes in 16 categories for journalistic work done in 2018 by <em>The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker,</em> and <em>ProPublica, </em>among other outlets. More than 550 entries were considered —&nbsp;a record year, according to the award's organizers. Previous winners include&nbsp;Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein,&nbsp;Walter Cronkite,&nbsp;Edward R. Murrow,&nbsp;Christiane Amanpour,&nbsp;Norman Mailer,&nbsp;and Diane Sawyer.</p> <p>"Few years have been as fruitful as this one," <em>New York Times</em> journalist John Darnton, now the curator of the Polk Awards, said in a <a href="http://liu.edu/George-Polk-Awards/Winners">statement</a> accompanying the award announcements. “These winners tell us that the best of our journalists remain resilient, courageous, dedicated, and undeterred by attacks on their ability and integrity."</p> A worker at an outdoor quicklime kiln in the southeastern village of Kosturino, Macedonia. The operation burns tires for fuel.Photo: Larry C. Price/Undark and The Pulitzer CenterKnight fellowship, Science writing, Science communications, Awards, honors and fellowships, Program in STS, Pollution, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences Q&amp;A: M. Amah Edoh on the Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize http://news.mit.edu/2019/2019-amah-edoh-isabelle-de-courtivron-writing-prize-0212 The award honors writing related to immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. Tue, 12 Feb 2019 15:00:01 -0500 Lisa Hickler | Global Studies and Languages http://news.mit.edu/2019/2019-amah-edoh-isabelle-de-courtivron-writing-prize-0212 <p><em>The Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize was established in 2010 in honor of Isabelle de Courtivron, professor emerita of French studies, on the occasion of her retirement. The prize is awarded annually for student writing on topics related to immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual, and/or mixed-race experiences. This year, the prize committee is chaired by assistant professor of African studies M. Amah Edoh. Edoh answered a few questions about the origins and aims of the prize, and about its namesake. Entries are now open for the 2019 Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize. </em></p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The de Courtivron prize invites submissions about “immigrant, diaspora, bicultural, bilingual and/or mixed-race experiences.” Why is this the focus?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Many of our students at MIT live across multiple cultural identities, whether as a result of having parents from different national, religious, or racial backgrounds, or as a product of migration — their own or their parents’, or ancestral dislocation, as in the case of members of the African and other diasporas. I believe that it’s incredibly important for young people from such backgrounds to have spaces where they can both process and share the experiences that living between multiple worlds bring about. Particularly because, unfortunately, there’s a way in which when we are young, we can experience this multiplicity as a burden — because we don’t fit into any one culture neatly, rather than as the asset that it actually is — the ability to be fluent in multiple cultural mores (and often, languages). This demographic of students was of particular interest to Professor de Courtivron during her time at MIT, owing both to her intellectual pursuits and to her own personal experience, having lived and worked in France, the U.S., and other countries, throughout her career. The writing contest gives students a space where they can reflect on their experiences, and share them with the MIT community as a whole. For us all it’s an invaluable chance to learn about the wealth of life experiences that make up the fabric of our community.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What kind of writing is accepted for prize entries?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Both creative and expository writing are welcome. It could be a personal essay or a short story. Also, our students are often already engaged in thinking about questions relevant to the prize in their SHASS classes — namely, who they are in the world, and what it has meant to be them in different places. And so sometimes they already have papers they’ve written for classes on these topics that speak to the theme of the prize. We welcome those as well.</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>What would be your advice to budding writers?</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>I think the most poignant writing for a prize like this comes out of authenticity. And by that, I mean writing that is true to your voice, your heart, and your experience. Sometimes we’re able to tap into that easily, other times it takes a bit more effort. Personally, when I don’t know where to start, I like to use “critical moments” reflection as a way to start generating ideas: reflecting on a moment that stands out for its strong emotional charge — whether you felt especially happy or sad or angry or surprised or confused. Under these strong emotions lies a meaningful experience, which might just provide a starting point, or perhaps a signpost as you continue to develop the bigger piece; write from that. The technique can be useful for both fiction and non-fiction. Also, what grabs us as readers when we read stories is the specificity of what’s being conveyed. As the writer, it can be tempting to want to focus on the universal dimension of what you’re writing about, almost at the expense of the specifics of the particular experience you’re relaying. But you have to let the story itself do much (maybe most!) of that work for you. That requires a great deal of trust in your voice and in your story. It’s also where the magic happens!</p> <p><strong>Q: </strong>The writing prize is named for Professor Emerita Isabelle de Courtivron. I understand you knew her when you were an undergrad at MIT.</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Yes, 20 years ago, when I was a first-year student here, like all other first-years, I think, I participated in a weekly first-year seminar. The seminars were small groups led by a faculty member, that would meet around a theme. The one I took part in was led by Professor de Courtivron, and its focus was on so-called “Third Culture Kids,” a term that was quite in vogue at the time. TCK are children who grew up in a culture or cultures other than their parents’. They often feel like they don’t fully belong to either of these cultures, identifying instead with other people who share the same experience of living across cultures. This the “third culture” they belong to, the mash-up, if you will, of multiple cultural experiences. All of us in the seminar had lived all over and occupied vastly different spaces in the world prior to coming to MIT, and yet our experiences resonated deeply with one another. My family is from Togo. I spent my early years there and in Zimbabwe, and later my family moved to the U.S. I went to French schools in Zimbabwe and the U.S., and then came to college here. Another member of our first-year seminar was a young white man from the southern United States who grew up in Latin America because his parents were missionaries, another was from Myanmar, and grew up in Europe, if I remember correctly. We were all from different majors, lived in different dorms, were involved in different student groups. We would have likely never met otherwise, and yet we so needed the affirmation that a space like this provided — in particular because it was led by a faculty member who understood our experiences of the world firsthand, Professor de Courtivron.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Tell us more about Professor Isabelle de Courtivron.</p> <p><strong>A: </strong>Oh, I remember her being so lively and engaging. And irreverent! She created a space for us, the students, to be free and open. She had a unique ability to connect to young people, and I think she relished hearing about our experiences as much as we loved having a “grownup” listen to us and guide us as we reflected on our own experiences and those of various “TCK” writers. I remember there being a lot of laughter. Isabelle made us feel heard and seen, and these small, warm sessions with her offered an incredibly valuable counterbalance to the large first-year lectures for core curriculum courses, where you were one among a crowd of hundreds. Isabelle remained a valued mentor to me throughout my years as an undergrad, and we still stay in touch. She currently lives in Paris, and I’ve had a chance to visit her there. Her legacy continues through this writing prize, and it is a special joy and honor for me to come full-circle in this way, if you will, by chairing the committee that will award the prize this year.</p> <p><em>Submissions are due by March 6. Interested students can find out more about how to submit by going to <a href="http://mitgsl.mit.edu/writingprize" target="_blank">mitgsl.mit.edu/writingprize</a>. The winning entry will be published online, and there is a $400 first prize.</em></p> Assistant Professor M. Amah Edoh is the 2019 chair of the Isabelle de Courtivron Writing Prize committee.Photo: Jonathan Sachs PhotographyGlobal Studies and Languages, Writing, Contests and academic competitions, Diversity and inclusion, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, Students Peering under the hood of fake-news detectors http://news.mit.edu/2019/opening-machine-learning-black-box-fake-news-0206 Study uncovers language patterns that AI models link to factual and false articles; underscores need for further testing. Wed, 06 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Rob Matheson | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/opening-machine-learning-black-box-fake-news-0206 <p>New work from MIT researchers peers under the hood of an automated fake-news detection system, revealing how machine-learning models catch subtle but consistent differences in the language of factual and false stories. The research also underscores how fake-news detectors should undergo more rigorous testing to be effective for real-world applications.</p> <p>Popularized as a concept in the United States during the 2016 presidential election, fake news is a form of propaganda created to mislead readers, in order to generate views on websites or steer public opinion.</p> <p>Almost as quickly as the issue became mainstream, researchers began developing automated fake news detectors —&nbsp;so-called neural networks that “learn” from scores of data to recognize linguistic cues indicative of false articles. Given new articles to assess, these networks can, with fairly high accuracy, separate fact from fiction, in controlled settings.</p> <p>One issue, however, is the “black box” problem — meaning there’s no telling what linguistic patterns the networks analyze during training. They’re also trained and tested on the same topics, which may limit their potential to generalize to new topics, a necessity for analyzing news across the internet.</p> <p>In a paper presented at the Conference and Workshop on Neural Information Processing Systems, the researchers tackle both of those issues. They developed a deep-learning model that learns to detect language patterns of fake and real news. Part of their work “cracks open” the black box to find the words and phrases the model captures to make its predictions.</p> <p>Additionally, they tested their model on a novel topic it didn’t see in training. This approach classifies individual articles based solely on language patterns, which more closely represents a real-world application for news readers. Traditional fake news detectors classify articles based on text combined with source information, such as a Wikipedia page or website.</p> <p>“In our case, we wanted to understand what was the decision-process of the classifier based only on language, as this can provide insights on what is the language of fake news,” says co-author Xavier Boix, a postdoc in the lab of Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) and director of the Center for Brains, Minds, and Machines (CBMM), a National Science Foundation-funded center housed within the McGovern Institute of Brain Research.</p> <p>“A key issue with machine learning and artificial intelligence is that you get an answer and don’t know why you got that answer,” says graduate student and first author Nicole O’Brien ’17. “Showing these inner workings takes a first step toward understanding the reliability of deep-learning fake-news detectors.”</p> <p>The model identifies sets of words that tend to appear more frequently in either real or fake news — some perhaps obvious, others much less so. The findings, the researchers say, points to subtle yet consistent differences in fake news —&nbsp;which favors exaggerations and superlatives — and real news, which leans more toward conservative word choices.</p> <p>“Fake news is a threat for democracy,” Boix says. “In our lab, our objective isn’t just to push science forward, but also to use technologies to help society. … It would be powerful to have tools for users or companies that could provide an assessment of whether news is fake or not.”</p> <p>The paper’s other co-authors are Sophia Latessa, an undergraduate student in CBMM; and Georgios Evangelopoulos, a researcher in CBMM, the McGovern Institute, and the Laboratory for Computational and Statistical Learning.</p> <p><strong>Limiting bias</strong></p> <p>The researchers’ model is a convolutional neural network that trains on a dataset of fake news and real news. For training and testing, the researchers used a popular fake news research dataset, called Kaggle, which contains around 12,000 fake news sample articles from 244 different websites. They also compiled a dataset of real news samples, using more than 2,000 from the <em>New York Times</em> and more than 9,000 from <em>The Guardian</em>.</p> <p>In training, the model captures the language of an article as “word embeddings,” where words are represented as vectors — basically, arrays of numbers —&nbsp;with words of similar semantic meanings clustered closer together. In doing so, it captures triplets of words as patterns that provide some context — such as, say, a negative comment about a political party. Given a new article, the model scans the text for similar patterns and sends them over a series of layers. A final output layer determines the probability of each pattern: real or fake.</p> <p>The researchers first trained and tested the model in the traditional way, using the same topics. But they thought this might create an inherent bias in the model, since certain topics are more often the subject of fake or real news. For example, fake news stories are generally more likely to include the words “Trump” and “Clinton.”</p> <p>“But that’s not what we wanted,” O’Brien says. “That just shows topics that are strongly weighting in fake and real news. … We wanted to find the actual patterns in language that are indicative of those.”</p> <p>Next, the researchers trained the model on all topics without any mention of the word “Trump,” and tested the model only on samples that had been set aside from the training data and that did contain the word “Trump.” While the traditional approach reached 93-percent accuracy, the second approach reached 87-percent accuracy. This accuracy gap, the researchers say, highlights the importance of using topics held out from the training process, to ensure the model can generalize what it has learned to new topics.</p> <p><strong>More research needed</strong></p> <p>To open the black box, the researchers then retraced their steps. Each time the model makes a prediction about a word triplet, a certain part of the model activates, depending on if the triplet is more likely from a real or fake news story. The researchers designed a method to retrace each prediction back to its designated part and then find the exact words that made it activate.&nbsp; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>More research is needed to determine how useful this information is to readers, Boix says. In the future, the model could potentially be combined with, say, automated fact-checkers and other tools to give readers an edge in combating misinformation. After some refining, the model could also be the basis of a browser extension or app that alerts readers to potential fake news language.</p> <p>“If I just give you an article, and highlight those patterns in the article as you’re reading, you could assess if the article is more or less fake,” he says. “It would be kind of like a warning to say, ‘Hey, maybe there is something strange here.’”</p> <p>“The work touches two very hot research topics: fighting algorithmic bias and explainable AI,” says Preslav Nakov, a senior scientist at the Qatar Computing Research Institute, part of Hamad bin Khalifa University, whose work focuses on fake news. “In particular, the authors make sure that their approach is not fooled by the prevalence of some topics in fake versus real news. They further show that they can trace back the algorithm's decision back to specific words in the input article."</p> <p>But Nakov also offers a word of caution: it’s difficult to control for many different types of biases in language. For example, the researchers use real news mostly from <em>The New York Times</em> and <em>The Guardian</em>. The next question, he says, is “how do we make sure that a system trained on this dataset would not learn that real news must necessarily follow the writing style of these two specific news outlets?”</p> Image: MIT NewsResearch, Computer science and technology, Algorithms, Politics, Technology and society, Language, Artificial intelligence, Ethics, Social media, Writing, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), Electrical Engineering & Computer Science (eecs), School of Engineering How writing technology shaped classical thinking http://news.mit.edu/2019/empire-letters-writing-technology-stephanie-frampton-0108 Stephanie Frampton’s new book explores the written word in the Roman world. Tue, 08 Jan 2019 00:00:00 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2019/empire-letters-writing-technology-stephanie-frampton-0108 <p>The Roman poet Lucretius’ epic work “De rerum natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” is the oldest surviving scientific treatise written in Latin. Composed around 55 B.C.E., the text is a lengthy piece of contrarianism. Lucreutius was in the Epicurean school of philosophy: He wanted an account of the world rooted in earthly matter, rather than explanations based on the Gods and religion.</p> <p>Among other things, Lucretius believed in atomism, the idea that the world and cosmos consisted of minute pieces of matter, rather than four essential elements. To explain this point, Lucretius asked readers to think of bits of matter as being like letters of the alphabet. Indeed, both atoms and letters are called “elementa” in Latin — probably derived from the grouping of L,M, and N in the alphabet.</p> <p>To learn these elements of writing, students would copy out tables of letters and syllables, which Lucretius thought also served as a model for understanding the world, since matter and letters could be rearranged in parallel ways. For instance, Lucretius wrote, wood could be turned into fire by adding a little heat, while the word for wood, “lignum,” could be turned into the world for fire, “ignes,” by altering a few letters.&nbsp;</p> <p>Students taking this analogy to heart would thus learn “the combinatory potential of nature and language,” says Stephanie Frampton, an associate professor of literature at MIT, in a new book on writing in the Roman world.</p> <p>Moreover, Frampton emphasizes, the fact that students were learning all this specifically through writing exercises is a significant and underappreciated point in our understanding of ancient Rome: Writing, and the tools of writing, helped shape the Roman world.</p> <p>“Everyone says the ancients are really into spoken and performed poetry, and don’t care about the written word,” Frampton says. “But look at Lucretius, who’s the first person writing a scientific text in Latin — the way that he explains his scientific insight is through this metaphor founded upon the written word.”</p> <p>Frampton explores this and other connections between writing and Roman society in her new work, “Empire of Letters,” published last week by Oxford University Press.</p> <p>The book is a history of technology itself, as Frampton examines the particulars of Roman books — which often existed as scrolls back then — and their evolution over time. But a central focus of the work is how those technologies influenced how the Romans “thought about thought,” as she says.</p> <p>Moreover, as Frampton notes, she is studying the history of Romans as “literate creatures,” which means studying the tools of writing used not just in completed works, but in education, too. The letter tables detailed by Lucretius are just one example of this. Romans also learned to read and write using wax tablets that they could wipe clean after exercises.</p> <p>The need to wipe such tablets clean drove the Roman emphasis on learning the art of memory — including the “memory palace” method, which uses visualized locations for items to remember them, and which is still around today. For this reason Cicero, among other Roman writers, called memory and writing “most similar, though in a different medium.”</p> <p>As Frampton writes in the book, such tablets also produced “an intimate and complex relationship with memory” in the Roman world, and meant that “memory was a fundamental part of literary composition.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Tablets also became a common Roman metaphor for how our brains work: They thought “the mind is like a wax tablet where you can write and erase and rewrite,” Frampton says. Understanding this kind of relationship between technology and the intellect, she thinks, helps us get that much closer to life as the Romans lived it.</p> <p>“I think it’s analagous to early computing,” Frampton says. “The way we talk about the mind now is that it’s a computer. … We think about the computer in the same way that [intellectuals] in Rome were thinking about writing on wax tablets.”</p> <p>As Frampton discusses in the book, she believes the Romans did produce a number of physical innovations to the typical scroll-based back of the classic world, including changes in layout, format, coloring pigments, and possibly even book covers and the materials used as scroll handles, including ivory.</p> <p>“The Romans were engineers, that’s [one thing] they were famous for,” Frampton says. “They are quite interesting and innovative in material culture.”</p> <p>Looking beyond “Empire of Letters” itself, Frampton will co-teach an MIT undergraduate course in 2019, “Making Books,” that looks at the history of the book and gets students to use old technologies to produce books as they were once made. While that course has previously focused on printing-press technology, Frampton will help students go back even further in time, to the days of the scroll and codex, if they wish. All these reading devices, after all, were important innovations in their day.</p> <p>“I’m working on old media,” Frampton says, “But those old media were once new.”</p> Stephanie Frampton, author of “Empire of Letters.”Image: Catie NewellBooks and authors, Faculty, Literature, languages and writing, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences, History, Research Q&amp;A: Why business leaders should — yes — ask questions http://news.mit.edu/2018/business-leaders-should-ask-questions-1219 MIT Sloan’s Hal Gregersen talks about his new book, “Questions Are the Answer.” Tue, 18 Dec 2018 23:59:59 -0500 Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2018/business-leaders-should-ask-questions-1219 <p><em>Should business leaders spend more time asking questions? Hal Gregersen has a firm answer to that: Yes. Gregersen, the executive director of the MIT Leadership Center and a senior lecturer on leadership and innovation at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has been studying executives for decades. Time and again, he has noticed, the most successful managers are among the most inquisitive people in business. Now Gregersen has synthesized his observations on the subject in a new book, </em>“<em>Questions Are the Answer: A Breakthrough Approach to Your Most Vexing Problems at Work and in Life</em>,”<em> published by HarperCollins. </em>MIT News<em> sat down with Gregersen to, well, ask him about the new book. </em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What’s the genesis of this book?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> As I’ve interacted with people, it’s been obvious that finding and asking the right questions was central to the work they did as leaders.</p> <p>Now, for every leader in any domain — including at the <a href="http://www.mitcfo.com/">MIT CFO conference</a> where I just spoke — you can ask them, “Is asking questions crucial to your work as a leader?” And it’s head-bobbing time: “Oh yeah.” Then you say, “Turn to the person sitting next to you and explain in 30 seconds what they should do in order to ask better questions.” People will stumble through the answer.</p> <p>And then I ask, “Okay, how many of you have a high confidence level in the answer you just gave to the person next to you?” And I never see more than 5 percent of the hands go up. Never, ever, all over the world. There’s always this really awkward silence in the room.</p> <p>So asking questions is this thing that we intuitively sense is important, but we behaviorally discount as being important in our everyday routines.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> In that case, how do you get people asking more questions in the workplace?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Someone has to care enough about something: What do we care about that we’re trying to get a solution to, but we’re honestly stuck on? To me that’s the starting point. Start really local, really small, and in their [the employees’] space. What’s a challenge they’re facing? What consistently keeps them from making progress?</p> <p>What we’re doing, especially in a place that’s full of fear, is inviting people to be a little more vulnerable and to solve a problem that will help them make progress. All of us want to leave work at the end of the day feeling that we’ve made progress.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What are the inhibitions that keep us from doing this more often, then?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> In a world demanding high performance, we’re expected to be at the top of the learning curve and show that we know what we’re doing. That’s the way in which we get hired and promoted at organizations — it’s mostly about having the best answer in the room.</p> <p>But as we start moving to the edge of uncertainty when tackling wicked, complex problems — and such problems go with senior leadership territory — the problems are no longer given. You have to find them by asking the right questions. And it’s in that space that answer-centered people or leaders end up hitting the wall. Because questions are the only way to open up and work through extreme uncertainty.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> You recommend a kind of group brainstorming session you call a “question burst” — two minutes to lay out a problem, four minutes for the group to come up with questions about it, then time for “unpacking” questions to see which help most. Why does this work?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> It’s sounds so gimmicky and management technique-y, but the data in the book [are] consistent. [At least 80 percent of the time, over 1,500 participants have said the sessions produce useful questions and potential answers for them.] It starts moving people emotionally to a better place. You’re forced to be reflectively quiet. And the toughest question you can ask of the person sitting next to you is the greatest gift you can give them. In short, this method creates the right conditions where people are often wrong, uncomfortable, and quiet, because that’s when the best questions surface to help solve our most vexing challenges.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Are people in business more open to some of these ideas and approaches now, compared to when you started rolling them out?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> There’s been an enormous move … especially with the digital transformation that is causing companies to completely rethink their business models. In that space, there are a lot of unsettled emotions and ideas among senior leaders about what to do. Many of these organizations have a history of grand success, and now they’re plunging into the sharp edge of uncertainty. So the challenge opens them up to [acknowledging], “I don’t quite know what to do here. I don’t know what I don’t know, and maybe questions are the answer.” Which often feels deeply counterintuitive if they’ve spent most of their lives dishing out answers.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Okay, what questions are you asking these days?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Where this book is taking me [now] is smack dab in the middle of AI [artificial intelligence], deep learning, machine learning. … AI currently struggles to make clear sense of ambiguous data when operating beyond the bounds of frameworks it was trained to know. And that’s exactly what we’re doing as human beings when we’re asking catalytic questions that challenge fundamental assumptions, to energize new paths of action. So the first step for my next research project is: How can we harness the power of AI, deep learning, and machine learning, to ask better questions as human beings? I believe that we must figure out ways to do that better and better. AI is not science fiction; it’s here. How can we as human beings keep our questioning capacity alive, vibrant, growing, stronger, adaptive, and inclusive of all this amazing work going on in the tech world, so that AI doesn’t ultimately outpace our human capacity to ask the better question?</p> Hal Gregersen, author of “Questions Are the Answer.”Photo: David SellaSloan School of Management, Business and management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), Leadership, Books and authors, Faculty Q&amp;A: Roger Conover on a lifetime in publishing http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-presss-roger-conover-publishing-art-architecture-1212 Longtime executive editor for art and architecture at the MIT Press discusses his experiences in the publishing world. Wed, 12 Dec 2018 11:50:01 -0500 MIT Press http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-presss-roger-conover-publishing-art-architecture-1212 <p><em>After four decades at the MIT Press, <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/Roger-Conover" target="_blank">Roger Conover</a> will be stepping down from his full-time role as executive editor for art and architecture. During his extraordinary tenure, Conover’s curatorial vision has had an enormous impact on the publishing world and on the shape of writing about art. Craig Dworkin, author of "<a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/no-medium" target="_blank">No Medium</a>" and editor of <a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/language-cover-page" target="_blank">"Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings of Vito Acconci</a>," recently sat down with Conover to talk about his long career.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong>&nbsp;I wanted to start by asking how you made your way from literature to the visual arts. At the beginning of the 1970s, you were a published poet — having won an award from the Academy of American Poets and been granted a fellowship to spend time writing poetry in Ireland. In fact, you were cited by Hart Crane's biographer, John Unterecker, as one of the promising young poets of your generation, along with Paul Muldoon and Gregory Orr. That was in 1973. You also went to graduate school in English, were a licensed lobsterfisherman, and briefly worked in theater. &nbsp;But by the end of the decade you were the editor of art and architecture books for MIT Press. How did that happen?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;The answer is a bit circuitous, but I’ll try my best. For two years in the early 1970s I lived in Ireland, thanks to a fellowship from the Watson Foundation: one year in Donegal, part of it spent commuting to the Yeats school in Sligo, and the second year in Dublin, where I met a number of poet-editors. I went there to channel [W.B.] Yeats, but by the time I left, it was much more about [Samuel] Beckett and [James] Joyce (by way of [Seamus] Heaney, [Charles Edward] Montague, [W.P.] Kinsella, [Derek] Mahon). When the grant was up I bought the cheapest ticket I could find back to the States: Dublin to Boston. I had the typical English major’s resume plus some poems published in Ireland and Wales. There weren’t many literary publishing houses in Boston, but there were a few. I sent my resume to all of them — Godine, Atlantic, Houghton-Mifflin, Little-Brown — with a cringeworthy cover letter recalling T.S. Eliot quitting his bank job to work for Faber and Faber, who in 1925 sought an&nbsp;editor “who combines literary gifts with business instincts.” In retrospect, I guess I can say that the only comparison is durational: We both stayed in our editorial positions for over 40 years. And that every editor makes mistakes; Eliot famously turned down Orwell’s&nbsp;“Animal Farm,” and I turned down too many good books to mention. &nbsp;</p> <p>[There were] no publishing offers for the latest poetry arrival in Boston. So I became a "Kelly Girl", a.k.a. a "temporary office worker" for Kelly Services, shifting from venue to venue making an hourly wage as a typist. I had never taken an art or architecture class, but I had taken a typing class in high school, and in the long arc of chance, that had as much as anything else to do with how I got the MIT Press position. We used Selectric typewriters in those days, with those redemptive self-correction ribbons. I had once won a boys’ typewriting competition in high school. So one day I’m asked by Kelly Services to show up at a firm called The Architects' Collaborative [TAC]. I don’t know if I was told that this was the firm founded by Walter Gropius when he left the Bauhaus (which he had also founded) to teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, but this would not have meant anything to me at the time. I had never taken an art or architecture class. I typed there for a few months, then I was offered a full-time job as a writer/editor in the graphic design department. Gropius was dead by then, but Ise Gropius would make an appearance now and then, and I got to know most of the other founding principals: Norman Fletcher, John Harkness, Sarah Harkness, and Louis McMillan were all still working there then. &nbsp;</p> <p>One day an ad appears in <em>The Boston Globe</em>. MIT Press was looking for an architecture editor. They had already published the monumental "Bauhaus" book by Hans Wingler, as well as earlier books by Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy, Josef Albers, and Oskar Schlemmer — all Bauhaus people. There were some MIT/TAC ties through Muriel Cooper, MIT Press’s first design director, who had designed some of those books, and through Gyorgy Kepes, who came to MIT from the New Bauhaus in Chicago and brought Muriel Cooper to MIT. In those days, she was setting MIT Press books in Helvetica on Selectric typewriters. We met, and talked Helvetica, Selectric, and Herbert Bayer, who I knew quite well by then because he was the modernist poet Mina Loy’s son-in-law. But that’s another story. To come to the point, I got lucky, poetry happened, and books came of it. I later published monographs on both Bayer and Cooper.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong>&nbsp;With books as one common denominator, obviously, were there other continuities between what you had been doing with poetry and literature, and what you began doing with architecture and, later, art?&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;When I started, I knew much more about what made good writing than good art. If I didn’t know what made a building great, or a painting beautiful, at least I knew what a good sentence was. I went with that. The manuscripts I am drawn to have always had more to do with the quality of writing than the recognition of the author or the availability of the subject. That’s probably why over half of the books I have published are by first-time authors — people who had something to say rather than people writing books to secure careers or tenure. That’s still what I look for today. This bias is probably what led to a sympathy for architectural theory and a publishing program built around architectural discourse and poetics rather than practice. I am interested in the ways that writing occupies space in the environment, that buildings occupy intellectual ground, and that art blurs into life. I love seeing the movements and unexpected events that take place within these structures: buildings as vessels for ideas, poems as objects, art as existence. I am more interested in architecture as a conceptual medium, a language of possibility, and a way of materializing imagination than as a strictly professional or functional practice; the MIT Press list reflects that.</p> <p>I have enjoyed exploring the continuities you mention through the visionaries, outsiders, fugitives, and imposters who have contributed so much to the history of art, architecture, and literature even if they come from outside it. It is not an accident that MIT list is informed by writers and thinkers who were formed by Pataphysics, Dimensionism, Dadaism, Situationism, the Independent Group, the Sex Pistols, Black Mountain College, and Psychedelics, as well as from Buffalo, Halifax, Ljubljana, Bucharest, Laos, and Lagos. Like Guy Debord said, “we have to multiply poetic subjects and objects, and we have to organize games of these poetic objects among these poetic subjects.”&nbsp;</p> <p>In response to your question, I also want to say that the work of publishers like Dick Higgins,&nbsp;Gérard Lebovici,&nbsp;Seth Siegelaub, and Jonathan William — those four in particular — was tremendously influential. They all transected fields and occupied margins in ways that should not be forgotten.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong>&nbsp;Part of your legacy at MIT has been to reframe certain genres of writing, and in some cases poetry specifically, as art practices — as analogues to sculpture and painting and performance. Do you think of your work as “literary” editing?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong>&nbsp;Some curators work for museums, some for artists. Some editors work for publishers, others for writers. I never considered myself working in service of either. I loved publishing the poems of Claude Cahun, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, John Hejduk, Roger Connah, Frank O’Hara, Francis Picabia, etc., but I knew this was not my job.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong>&nbsp;Thank you for taking the time to talk. Anyone who has edited almost 1,500 books is used to doing a lot of things at once, and I know that one of things you’ll be juggling is continued work on the poet/boxer/provocateur Arthur Cravan, who vanished without a trace in 1918. I’ve always thought that you share a lot with Cravan — given his&nbsp;outsider sensibility, literary acumen, and pugilistic wit —&nbsp;but it’s good to know that&nbsp;unlike&nbsp;him you won’t be vanishing.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> You’re quite welcome.</p> Roger ConoverPhoto: Maura McEvoyStaff, MIT Press, Arts, Design, Architecture, Books and authors, History of MIT, Humanities, Literature 3Q: Felice Frankel on improving the visual side of science http://news.mit.edu/2018/felice-frankel-picturing-science-engineering-1212 Photographer’s new book describes ways for researchers to make their images more informative and appealing. Wed, 12 Dec 2018 09:08:08 -0500 David L. Chandler | MIT News Office http://news.mit.edu/2018/felice-frankel-picturing-science-engineering-1212 <p><em>Felice Frankel has spent more than 25 years helping scientists and engineers create engaging and informative photographs and images depicting their work. Her images have appeared on the covers of many of the world’s leading scientific journals, and she has described some of the processes and methods involved in several books, as well as in classes and workshops at MIT and around the country, and an online class on </em>MITx.<em> Her latest book, “Picturing Science and Engineering,” published this week by MIT Press, is an exhaustive and profusely illustrated tutorial on how to create images of research that are informative, visually compelling, and scientifically accurate. In addition to working directly with scientists and engineers, Frankel is also a consultant to the MIT News Office. She spoke with </em>MIT News<em> about some of the important lessons in the book.</em></p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> What are some of the biggest mistakes or missed opportunities that you see in researchers’ photos?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> Basically, researchers think that we see what they see. They make a picture, and because they’ve been working on the material for so long, it becomes part of their being. They assume that we are looking at what they want us to look at — and that’s generally not the case. It’s very hard to take a step back and be a first-time viewer, and it’s a real issue. Generally there’s much too much in the figure or even in the image. Researchers will mentally delete anything that’s irrelevant, but we don’t do that. So that’s the biggest issue, that the communicative piece of the work is not emphasized in their thinking.</p> <p>I don't even know how to teach that. Maybe you can’t. But I tell people to work at it, and just take one or two steps back, maybe even 10, and look at it hopefully for the first time. That’s the idea. And that’s what I believe is missing in scientists’ education — how to communicate to people outside their field — what to leave in, what to leave out. It’s about creating a hierarchy, just as you do in writing. I’ve been traveling a lot lately to promote the book, and it seems that most people agree that this should be part of a researcher’s training, somehow incorporating the visual piece — but it’s not.</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> How much can images contribute to conveying real, specific information in a research paper?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> An enormous amount! Even if the image is not photographable, an image can be a diagram of course, or an animation — it could be almost everything. It really is not only showing evidence of something existing but it can communicate a process; it can be explanatory. Images and graphics are very, very powerful tools that should be part of everyone’s thinking. I do meet people whose work is completely unphotographable — the camera can’t take pictures of quantum phenomena — but attempting to come up with an analogy or metaphor to start explaining these complicated ideas is a very exciting exercise.</p> <p>Something that I’ve been trying to promote on campus is the value of working together cooperatively to come up with that right metaphor or analogy. Ultimately all metaphors fall apart, but just having that conversation itself is a means of clarification in one’s thinking. In that conversation, by saying ‘Let’s come up with something to explain this thing,’ you finally get to a point as a group where you say, ‘OK, what’s the first thing we want to let people know?’ You’d be surprised at how disparate those answers can be, coming from people within the same [research] group. It is a very interesting exercise to see what page everyone is on. It’s something I’ve experienced in our workshops.</p> <p>The biggest surprise for researchers when we work together is how simple the changes can be. For example, just addressing the composition of the image can change its meaning. Just overlaying some data on top of a background, for example, can simplify the image. It doesn’t work all the time. Each solution is unique. That’s why it’s not trivial to come up with universal rubrics for all graphics.</p> <p>I show another example in the book where the researcher wanted to compare this set of data with that set of data. He had two separate charts. In this case, by simply overlaying one over the other, you not only take up less space, you are helping the viewer easily compare the two. It is just a simple change in composition.</p> <p>And also, as I wrote about at great length in the book, the use of color is so important. The overuse of color in figures is astounding to me, because it’s easy; it’s in all the toolboxes. Researchers will put so much color in a figure that the viewer has no idea where to look. Color should be used quietly. Your choices should be intuitive. If you want to bring attention to a certain area, for example, then only color that place in your figure. You don’t have to color the whole thing. What’s interesting is that most researchers immediately see how obvious this idea is, yet again, it comes as a surprise. These are very simple changes that make enormous differences.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Q:</strong> Is it ever OK to manipulate science images, and if so under what kinds of rules or restrictions?</p> <p><strong>A:</strong> There’s a real challenge in coming up with universal rules because every situation is different. In the book I quote <em>Nature</em>, for example, because they have extensive guidelines for what can and cannot be done. But the other journals, not so much. I'm a little surprised by that. Graduate students and postdocs do not think often about the issue.</p> <p>You know if you think about it, the very nature of making a photographic image is a manipulation of a sort. You have to make a decision about what to include in the picture, what to leave out. In addition, you are making the picture at a particular time, and that certainly affects the resulting image. And deciding on your tools can result in a kind of manipulation. Just by using a camera you are already manipulating the image. Every camera has its own algorithm. My Nikon will take a different picture than your Canon because of their built-in systems. Even if you set the camera for “no manipulation,” the capturing of the image is still part of that camera’s system. One can get a little crazy by saying that nothing must be enhanced. The point is, the subject is just not discussed enough. Unfortunately it has become too easy to “adjust” an image after it has been taken. You can just slide the slider and make things a little more cool. But you must realize you’re changing the data. You have to truly think about it.</p> <p>If pushed, I can point to one universal rule. One is permitted to increase the contrast to better communicate structure, but only if you increase the contrast to the entire image, and make a universal manipulation or enhancement to the image. You cannot take a piece of an image and change the histogram. So that’s something that <em>Nature </em>discusses, but ultimately, you always have to indicate that you have done so. You must always keep a record and indicate what you have done in the article. It’s critical.</p> Microscopic detail of a microrotor. Research from Alan Epstein's lab.Image: Felice FrankelStaff, Arts, Photography, Technology and society, Science communications, EdX, MITx, Books and authors, MIT Press Inside &quot;The Laughing Room&quot; http://news.mit.edu/2018/inside-the-laughing-room-ai-powered-installation-jonny-sun-1205 An artificial intelligence-powered laugh track amuses and unsettles in interactive installations by Jonny Sun. Wed, 05 Dec 2018 12:10:01 -0500 Brigham Fay | MIT Libraries http://news.mit.edu/2018/inside-the-laughing-room-ai-powered-installation-jonny-sun-1205 <p>“The Laughing Room,”&nbsp;an interactive art installation by author, illustrator, and MIT graduate student Jonathan "Jonny" Sun, looks like a typical living room: couches, armchairs, coffee table, soft lighting. This cozy scene, however, sits in a glass-enclosed space, flanked by bright lights and a microphone, with a bank of laptops and a video camera positioned across the room. People wander in, take a seat, begin chatting. After a pause in the conversation, a riot of canned laughter rings out, prompting genuine giggles from the group.</p> <p>Presented at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Nov. 16-18, "The Laughing Room" was an artificially intelligent room programmed to play an audio laugh track whenever participants said something that its algorithm deemed funny. Sun, who is currently on leave from his PhD program within the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning, is an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and creative researcher at the metaLAB at Harvard, created the project to explore the increasingly social and cultural roles of technology in public and private spaces, users’ agency within and dependence on such technology, and the issues of privacy raised by these systems. The installations were presented as part of ARTificial Intelligence, an ongoing program led by MIT associate professor of literature Stephanie Frampton that fosters public dialogue about the emerging ethical and social implications of artificial intelligence (AI) through art and design.</p> <div class="cms-placeholder-content-video"></div> <p><strong>Setting the scene</strong></p> <p>“Cambridge is the birthplace of artificial intelligence, and this installation gives us an opportunity to think about the new roles that AI is playing in our lives every day,” said Frampton. “It was important to us to set the installations in the Cambridge Public Library and MIT Libraries, where they could spark an open conversation at the intersections of art and science.”</p> <p>“I wanted the installation to resemble a sitcom set from the 1980s–a private, familial space,” said Sun. “I wanted to explore how AI is changing our conception of private space, with things like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, where you’re aware of this third party listening.”</p> <p>"The Control Room," a companion installation located in Hayden Library at MIT, displayed a live stream of the action in "The Laughing Room,<em>" </em>while another monitor showed the algorithm evaluating people’s speech in real time. Live streams were also shared online via <a href="http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcHx9-QlKDkXJ3agEUa_woA/featured" target="_blank">YouTube</a> and <a href="http://www.pscp.tv/thelaughingroom/1nAKEyXZqMbKL" target="_blank">Periscope</a>. “It’s an extension of the sitcom metaphor, the idea that people are watching,” said Sun. The artist was interested to see how people would act, knowing they had an audience. Would they perform for the algorithm? Sun likened it to Twitter users trying to craft the perfect tweet so it will go viral.</p> <p><strong>Programming funny</strong></p> <p>“Almost all machine learning starts from a dataset,” said Hannah Davis, an artist, musician, and programmer who collaborated with Sun to create the installation’s algorithm. She described the process at an “Artists Talk Back” event held Saturday, Nov. 17, at Hayden Library. The panel discussion included Davis; Sun; Frampton; collaborator Christopher Sun, research assistant Nikhil Dharmaraj, Reinhard Engels, manager of technology and innovation at Cambridge Public Library, Mark Szarko, librarian at MIT Libraries, and Sarah Newman, creative researcher at the metaLAB. The panel was moderated by metaLAB founder and director Jeffrey Schnapp.</p> <p>Davis explained how, to train the algorithm, she scraped stand-up comedy routines from YouTube, selecting performances by women and people of color to avoid programming misogyny and racism into how the AI identified humor. “It determines what is the setup to the joke and what shouldn’t be laughed at, and what is the punchline and what should be laughed at,” said Davis. Depending on how likely something is to be a punchline, the laugh track plays at different intensities.</p> <p><strong>Fake laughs, real connections</strong></p> <p>Sun acknowledged that the reactions from "The Laughing Room" participants have been mixed: “Half of the people came out saying ‘that was really fun,’” he said. “The other half said ‘that was really creepy.’”</p> <p>That was the impression shared by Colin Murphy, a student at Tufts University who heard about the project from following Sun on Twitter: “This idea that you are the spectacle of an art piece, that was really weird.”</p> <p>“It didn’t seem like it was following any kind of structure,” added Henry Scott, who was visiting from Georgia. “I felt like it wasn’t laughing at jokes, but that it was laughing at us. The AI seems mean.”</p> <p>While many found the experience of "The Laughing Room"<em> </em>uncanny, for others it was intimate, joyous, even magical.</p> <p>“There’s a laughter that comes naturally after the laugh track that was interesting to me, how it can bring out the humanness,” said Newman at the panel discussion. “The work does that more than I expected it to.”</p> <p>Frampton noted how the installation’s setup also prompted unexpected connections: “It enabled strangers to have conversations with each other that wouldn’t have happened without someone listening.”</p> <p>Continuing his sitcom metaphor, Sun described these first installations as a “pilot,” and is looking forward to presenting future versions of "The Laughing Room." He and his collaborators will keep tweaking the algorithm, using different data sources, and building on what they’ve learned through these installations. "The Laughing Room" will be on display in the MIT Wiesner Student Art Gallery in May 2019, and the team is planning further events at MIT, Harvard, and Cambridge Public Library throughout the coming year.</p> <p>“This has been an extraordinary collaboration and shown us how much interest there is in this kind of programming and how much energy can come from using the libraries in new ways,” said Frampton.</p> <p>"The Laughing Room" and "The Control Room" were funded by the metaLAB (at) Harvard, the MIT De Florez Fund for Humor, the Council of the Arts at MIT, and the MIT Center For Art, Science and Technology and presented in partnership with the Cambridge Public Library and the MIT Libraries.</p> Video from "The Laughing Room," an interactive installation at Cambridge Public Library, was shown live on monitors at Hayden Library and streamed online.Still photos courtesy of metaLAB (at) Harvard.Arts, Libraries, Artificial intelligence, Technology and society, Urban studies and planning, Students, Graduate, postdoctoral, Literature, School of Architecture and Planning, School of Humanities Arts and Social Sciences MIT Press launches Ai Weiwei&#039;s autobiography in photographs http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-press-ai-weiwei-beijing-photographs-museum-fine-arts-boston-1121 Lively program with the author celebrates the release of “Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs, 1993 – 2003” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Wed, 21 Nov 2018 11:00:00 -0500 Kate Silverman Wilson | MIT Press http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-press-ai-weiwei-beijing-photographs-museum-fine-arts-boston-1121 <p>The MIT Press recently celebrated the launch of <a href="http://mitpress.mit.edu/books/ai-weiwei">“Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs, 1993 – 2003”</a> with a sold-out public program&nbsp;at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The event featured a conversation between the internationally renowned artist&nbsp;and Christina Yu Yu, the museum’s Matsutaro Shoriki Chair of the Art of Asia.</p> <p>“Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs, 1993 – 2003” is an autobiography in pictures that provides unprecedented insight into one of China’s most prolific and provocative contemporary artists. Featuring over 600 photographs, the publication offers an intimate look at Ai Weiwei's world in the years after his return from New York and preceding his imprisonment and global superstardom.&nbsp;</p> <p>During the lively program, Ai and&nbsp;Yu Yu together explored a series of photographs from the new publication. Their conversation touched upon the illness and death of the artist’s father; Ai’s iconic “Study of Perspective” series which features the artist’s middle finger raised to significant landmarks from around the world; and the recent destruction of Ai’s Zuo You studio in Beijing by Chinese authorities. The program also included a discussion of the artist's&nbsp;recent project, “​Human Flow,”<em> </em>an epic film on human migration. &nbsp;</p> <p>The event continued with a private reception and book signing attended by friends of the MIT Press and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.</p> <p>While in Boston, Ai also <a href="http://www.pri.org/stories/2018-10-29/dissident-artist-ai-weiwei-asks-does-america-still-have-big-heart" target="_blank">spoke with Marco Werman</a> on PRI’s “The World” and <a href="http://www.wgbh.org/program/open-studio-with-jared-bowen/artist-ai-weiwei-lest-we-forget-and-man-in-the-ring" target="_blank">with Jared Bowen</a> on WGBH’s “Open Studio” about the book.</p> <p>“Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs, 1993 – 2003” will be available in hardcover in January. The publication was made possible in part by the&nbsp;<a href="https://mitpress.mit.edu/give-mit-press" target="_blank">Muriel Cooper Publication Fund</a>.</p> Artist Ai Weiwei (right) and Christina Yu Yu, the Matsutaro Shoriki Chair of the Art of Asia at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, examine Ai's pictorial autobiography “Ai Weiwei: Beijing Photographs, 1993 – 2003” at a recent launch event.Photo courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, BostonArts, Special events and guest speakers, Books and authors, China, Photography, MIT Press, Cambridge, Boston and region